I painted The Grinning Robin in May 1991
The story behind it came years later.
The Grinning Robin
Mothers know when their kids are moping. She sent her father to see what was wrong with her son.
“Something bothering you?” the grandfather asked.
Gramps thought about the answer for a moment.
“You worried about yourself?”
Gramps thought some more. He was wise.
“You worried about the world.”
“Always been something of concern,” the grandfather agreed.
“Always a worry to those of us on it,” the grandson said gloomily.
They perched together and considered.
“You were a human being last life, right?” the grandfather inquired.
“Guess you remember more how mere mortals are, then. I been a bird for a few years now.”
The young robin said, “I feel guilty about my freedom.”
Now the grandfather was alarmed. Guilt in the animal kingdom was a serious thing!
He took his grandson under his wing.
“You earned the right to be a bird.”
“But what about all the – well, the – about the – “
Gramps pulled his wing away. “So – go ahead. Suffer.”
The young robin flickered. “I don’t know how to do that any more.”
“Exactly!” said the granddad.
A huge sigh. “So – just get on with it?”
Young robin said, “Well, I do have a lovely song.” He trilled a few notes. “And my chest is brilliantly crimson.” He puffed it out and the sun shone iridescent on the feathers. “And when I fly people do raise their eyes to me.”
Grandpa noticed that a chorus of dandelions were about to shake their fluffy heads and spread what he said along with their seeds so he chose his words carefully.
“Exactly! You have the freedom now to be a bird, only a bird, a bird to the utmost. You have the gift of making people feel good, without obligation, without guilt. Even for an instant.”
The young robin sighed again but this time from the top down not the bottom up. “I do, don’t I,” he said. “I’d forgotten. Thanks. That makes me feel a lot better.”
“No problem,” replied Gramps. “That’s what I’m here for. That makes me feel good.”
Gramps flew back to his daughter’s tree to tell her all was well with the kid and to see if perhaps she had some worm leftovers from breakfast. She was the earliest of birds. She took after her mother.
Young robin fluffed out his chest and straightened a wing feather or two. He cocked his head with his black seed eyes and sent out his most cheery song.
Down below on a park bench a father was sitting with his two children, holding the littlest on his lap. They all looked up when they heard the robin. “Dog! Dog!” yelled the baby in delight. “It’s a bird,” the father said and laughed because he knew “dog” was the only word the baby knew so far.
“Dumb kid,” the older child said under his breath and was about to toss a stick he had in his hand at the bird to scare it away. But the father stopped the throw, put the baby back in his stroller, and lifted the older child onto his lap. Which is what the child wanted much more than he wanted to scare the bird. Now he could watch and listen to the bird with pleasure too.
The young robin felt their enjoyment. He sang even louder, caught the sun and the breeze on his feathers and shone even more. Then he was moved to acquire what no other robin had ever had before but many from now on would. A smile.