Robinhood and the Old Cardinal – A Parable
(for my mother, who taught me to always love and take care of the birds – “…then God will surely take care of you.”
In the Great Forest there are so, so many kinds of birds, each one so wonderful in its own right. There is a Hierarchy among them, or so some tend to think. Among the least is robinhood, a mixture of a common robin and, well, a hooded monk, you might say. It is a tiny bird, smaller than a sparrow or a finch, and there is a little dot of red on the chest and a kind of hood on the head. It was a handsome bird, but quite, quite common.
One day, this robinhood was pondering this whole hierarchy thing, this Best to least. He always did tend to agree that none compared to the Great White Dove, the Most Magnificent bird who, while no one questioned his place of superiority, never did think of himself as or want to be superior. He flew around day and night, visiting all of the creatures. He was both all-wise and all-present, never but a chirp or tweet away. Wherever there was a bird in pain, he managed to fly right in and offer comfort.
That day Dove found robinhood weeping, and asked why. The tiny bird who was so sick and tired of being put down by the rest for being so plain, asked the Dove why some birds were more blessed, more colorful, more beautiful. This was especially so of the Cardinal who, whenever he flew through, would cause the rest to be silent. The Dove answered that it does not really matter how one looks, but only what one holds within and what he or she does with it, how well one loves and serves the rest. The Magnificent One told the robinhood, however, that the Cardinal is indeed very special. He was given that most fabulous cloak by the Creator of the forest, because he was called to guardian and guide of all, and to be forever ready to lay down his life for anyone in need. The bright red, then, stood for blood, the symbol of life.
Robinhood immediately answered, “But, I watch them. They don’t give their lives at all. They mostly fly around and show off, like they are better than the rest of us!” Then, he thought of his parents, how they indeed constantly sacrificed themselves for him and his siblings, and even their neighbors. How hard had been their lives! How often they went without eating, thinking only of others. How many times they had really risked life and wing to protect their families.
The Dove had tears in his eyes as he listened, as he truly felt every word of robinhood and stood in utter awe of that mother and father. “But,” he said, “Robbie, this is how the Lord of the Forest has willed it to be. We need our guardians, and if the Lord has given them the brightest cloaks to single them out, so it is.” And with that, he flew away.
Robinhood was so focused now on his mother’s love and on the fact that she deserved the highest honor. She deserved to wear that beautiful royal red cloak more than any old Cardinal. They are called to be ready to die, but she does die every day in every way. So, little robinhood worked out a plan to break into the Cardinals’ palace and to steal a red cloak for his mother.
Late that night the little bird found a very tiny hole in the basement of the palace. Being so small he was able to pass right through, and once inside, being so small, he was able to hop around and avoid the guards. He made it to the Cardinal’s chamber to search for the cloak. Soon, however, he was standing right in the presence of a Cardinal, but not like the one he had seen in the forest. This one was old, tattered and torn. “Your lordship,” he bowed, trembling, weeping, “your mercy.” How utterly shocked he was when the Cardinal began to speak. Expecting a powerful reprimand and a sentence to the deepest dungeon below, instead he heard the gentlest voice he had known, even more than the Dove’s.
The Cardinal asked why the robinhood had come to his chamber, which the little bird now noticed to be utterly simple, empty of anything ornate. Robinhood confessed his entire tale, accenting the wonders of his mother and father, and by the time he was finished, the Cardinal was weeping himself. “You do not understand, my little friend. How I wished that I could have taken off my fancy coat and placed it on your most worthy mother, or any of the precious parents in the forest. I know the way that they sacrifice and serve. I watch them. They are my teachers everyday, as I fly around the forest. That is my main mission; it is not to show off, but to see. To seek out and to study the selfless ones, to learn from them how to ready myself for service unto death. My red is their color, it came from their hearts, and I wear it for them, at every moment, for their honor, the Glory of Love. How many nights I cry myself to sleep that I have been so blessed to wear this cloak when your mother deserves it so much more. Why, I cry, why me?”
From that moment forward, the Cardinal and robinhood were bonded, the very best of friends, even more than friends. They were brothers forever. They would always be considered among the Greatest Companions in the Forest.