My 19-year-old cockatoo, Woody, came from a bird adoption agency three years ago. All I knew about him then was that his long-time owner had moved into a nursing home, leaving him homeless; that he ate nothing but birdseed; and that he had not been “handled,” meaning he bit.
Soon I discovered more: He was not only a picky-eater but lazy, too. All day, he looked out the window, watching birds fly by or pretending he was munching something when he wasn’t. Considering that most birds in captivity only live 25 to 30 years, Woody is definitely a senior citizen, like myself.
One day I had a talk with him. I said he had to eat better and had to consider me as his friend. “You and I have to enjoy life, no matter how old we are! For that reason, I want you to be free!” I opened the gate wide, feeling grand. “There is no curfew!”
He did nothing! He just sat on his perch as usual, blinking his onyx-like eyes, ignoring what I just said. So I chased him out by shaking the cage.
The next thing I knew, he was flying! Gliding out of the bird room, which is our laundry room, he passed the kitchen, flew into the family room, and then headed directly to the window, where the sunlight was bright. Then, with a “thud” he fell onto the carpeted floor.
He looked frightened but wasn’t hurt. For the following 20 minutes he and I played hide-and-seek. He crawled under the coffee table, then the baby grand and then moved into the dining room. I followed him, but he had vanished. On all fours, I looked under the table. There, he was running for his life, squeezing through six table legs and 24 chair legs! I quickly moved to the other side of the table and waited. Seeing me, he suddenly stopped running. He seemed to say, “OK, catch me, Human, if that’d make you happy.”
I did just that. Picking him up, I took him to the kitchen sink and gave him a bath as a bonus. He bit my hand in gratitude.
Three years later, Woody eats fruit, berries, boiled corn, sweet potatoes and vitamin-fortified Science Diet. He loves taking a bath in the sink, splashing water all over. He let me stroke his neck (gently, please), too, and when his favorite music, “Rockin’ Robin,” blasts from a boom-box, he dances, rocking back and forth, squealing with joy.
That’s not all.
A week ago, I tied a palm-size mirror on the perch so he could see how beautiful he is. He didn’t like what he saw at first. Hissing, he pecked at a possible enemy, ruffling his feathers. But it didn’t last long. He began to coo. Then, leaning into the mirror, he began to rub his check ever so gently, as if saying, “Hey, Buddy, where have been all these years? I’ve been looking for you!”
Watching Woody’s delight at seeing his “friend” in the mirror, I can’t help but think about my changed attitude toward my own reflection.
Once upon a time in a faraway land called Korea, I used to look at my reflection tirelessly. I was seven or eight — I can’t remember. It could have been after a granny had noticed me on the street and said, “Don’t you look so lovely in that dress, Child? I wish I could take you home with me!”
I wished I could go with her if she could say the same every day. In my own home, such words as “lovely,” “pretty” or “beautiful” were forbidden. Once a distant uncle came and said, “You have three beautiful daughters, Sister!” but Mother scolded him; “What a silly thing you say, Cousin! They might believe you!”
Six decades later, I look at myself only when I have to, because the old woman in the mirror seems to say, “Sorry for being so old.” I stopped buying cosmetics a while ago, so she looks plain. But Woody tells me I must be kind to my “friend” in the mirror, because she and I are partners for life.
With the newly gained knowledge, I say, “How you look doesn’t matter; how you feel inside does! Cheer up, Old Lady. Today is a new day!”