Bird House (Tarot of Michelle)

The first ingredient of love is to really see the other. — Anthony de Mello

Illustration by the author

The story of Bird House begins many years ago in Tucson, Arizona. Somewhere online, I had read a quote by Father Anthony de Mello, along the lines of, “If you are serving someone who you have not taken the trouble to see, you are meeting your own needs instead of that person’s.” It made such an impression on me that I printed it out and taped it to the inside of the bathroom closet door (don’t ask me why) where I took in its message every day, for many years.

Then the little piece of paper got lost in the move to the Pacific Northwest, and it took me forever to find the quote again.

Therefore, the first act of love is to see this person or this object, this reality as it truly is. And this involves the enormous discipline of dropping your desires, your prejudices, your memories, your projections, your selective way of looking, a discipline so great that most people would rather plunge headlong into good actions and service than submit to the burning fire of this asceticism. When you set out to serve someone whom you have not taken the trouble to see, are you meeting that person’s need or your own? So, the first ingredient of love is to really see the other.

For a long time I’ve struggled with how to find the middle ground between helping someone as they want to be helped, and helping them in the way I want to help them, or can help them. The need is great; yet I want to give in alignment with my values. Also see, Little Horses.

Sometimes what people want is reasonable and I’m being ungenerous. Sometimes what people want is unreasonable and they’re being entitled, and I’m being reasonable.

Then a neighbor’s cat killed the baby birds that were nesting in the newspaper box attached to my fence. To avoid the same problem next year, I did a little research on birdhouse design. It turns out that not all birdhouses are created equal. I knew the shape, size and location of birdhouses would influence who nested there. I knew that the size of the hole also made a difference.

But I hadn’t known that the interior height of the birdhouse from the floor to the hole was also important. If the birdhouse is too deep, baby birds can’t get out; if it’s too shallow, baby birds will fall out. Of course this makes sense, but I’d never thought of it before.

So the birdhouse reminds me that when I want to do good, I should consider what the other person really needs and tailor my approach accordingly. I shouldn’t just do what I think is right; I should ask, learn, and find out what the most effective help really is. 

A story behind one of the cards in The Tarot of Michelle. Follow the developmental art as a Patron on Patreon.

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