The Fall of a Sparrow

As readers, we are trained to look for clues in a text. As though a text is a thing to hang in a window so we can see where the light shines through or find where the dark patch needs our pulling apart. And with the tools of technique-spotting, we shred.

But sometimes this transfers to our daily routines. Reading horoscopes or making wishes on the 11:11 clock. Looking for signs and symbols in the motions of the everyday.

On my walk to school one day last week, a crisp ten dollar bill lay flat on the sidewalk in front of me. My first response to finding money is always by letting out a little groan. I imagine the person reaching into their pocket, their wallet, their wherever and finding an unexpected emptiness.

Then, on the following day, on the same route to school, just a few blocks farther, a crisp twenty dollar bill lay on the street in front of me. This was suspicious. Was I an unwitting participant in a social experiment? Was a constellation of pranksters conspiring to see what I would do?

The friend I used to debate the moral quandary of finding objects in the street with, John, died this past summer. John was in the camp of: if you find something of value on the street, try to find the owner–except cash, which you simply pocket. Unless it’s a lot of cash, he conceded. But, I would argue, what is a lot? To some, ten is a lot while to others it’s simply an inconsequential inconvenience. “Och, away ye go!” he’d snort at me.

Then yesterday, on what would have been John’s 84th birthday, on my walk to school I found the torn part of a twenty dollar bill with only half the serial numbers attached, rendering both it and the other portion valueless.

I laughed when I saw it. It was entirely something John would would have done: given a sign with something rendered meaningless to show that looking for signs is pointless. Like when Horatio reminds Hamlet to trust his gut, and Hamlet replies, “We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” Both nothing and all things are by design.

Image: Titmouse and Camellias, Sparrow and Wild Roses, and Black-naped Oriole and Cherry Blossoms, by Utagawa Hiroshige

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