St. Francis As I Live and Breathe



                                                        Marilyn A. Kinsella


"All God’s creatures got a place in the choir

Some sing low, some sing higher…some just sing out on a telephone wire

Some just clap their hand…or paws…or anything they got…now." (Refrain)

Bill Staines


Some 800 years ago their lived a man who told stories. His stories and his life are still told today. And he didn’t discover new lands and he wasn’t the head of a great country. He was a simple man with simple needs. His name is St. Francis of Assisi. Oh, he was born into wealth. His father was a rich merchant. Francis had a pampered life as a child and led a rather “wild” life as a young man, but once he dedicated himself to the work of God, he spurned his former life.  As he grew into his spiritual adulthood so did his stories. He was a great storyteller. They say that when St. Francis told his stories – everybody listened. When he told his stories to the heavens, the birds of the sky  - the bluebird, the cardinal, the sparrow – lit on his shoulder to listen. When he told his stories to the waters, the sea creatures – the fish, the turtles and the frogs – came to listen. And when he told stories to the earth, the land animals – the deer, the lamb, and, yes, the wolf – came to listen.

Some people will tell you that St. Francis lived a long time ago. But, I disagree. I think St. Francis is alive and well. He lives in the eyes, the faces…and the stories of some storytellers I have met.

The first storyteller I would like to tell you about is named Michael – Michael Cotter. He’s a seventh generation farmer from Minnesota. For many years Michael worked the earth. Oh, the stories he tells about his farming life. One story in particular has stuck with me. It was the story of the Kill Deer. The Kill Deer, as most of you probably already know, is a land bird. It makes its nest in the ground and conceals it. The Kill Deer has an unusual way of protecting it’s young. When the nest is in danger the mother bird will flap its wings around to distract the predator and even feign injury by folding its wing as if it were broken. One day Michael was plowing his fields on his green tractor. It was late and there was a lot to be done. Suddenly, he saw a bird – a Kill Deer – running in front of him. She was all feathers, and she was squawking to high heaven. When Michael paid her no mind, she instinctively put her wing to the ground and dragged it about. Finally, Michael stopped the machine and asked ‘”Okay, but you’re going have to show me where your nest is.”  The bird looked at Michael; then ran to her nest. Michael came down off the tractor and moved the nest out of harms way. Today, I’d like to you the Kill Deer’s side of the story:

I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. Not after all those years – not after how careful I’d been. But, there it was that same ugly green monster that took my mother and my brothers and sisters so many years ago. I remember my mother. I remember how desperately she tried to save us. But the monster just came closer and closer until…until…nothing was left of my family but me. I swore nothing like that would ever happen to my family. Then, I heard it that awful noise, the earth trembled, and when I looked up, there it was coming right towards my children. I didn’t know what to do at first. But, I remember my mama. I remembered how brave she was. So I ran out in front of it. I screamed and yelled thinking it would follow me. When it kept on coming, I tried that trick of mama’s. I drug my wing along the ground. Perhaps, it would think I was injured and come after easy prey. I realized that it was over. So I put my wing over my eyes, so I wouldn’t have to witness the death of my family, when something strange happened. The earth stopped moving; everything became quiet…very quiet. When I dared to look up, I saw a man, not a machine. He was the kindest man I’d ever seen. There was something familiar about him, and I knew that I could trust him. He said something in his soft human voice. I couldn’t understand, but I was strangely comforted..  I walked slowly over to my nest, and he followed. He did something then that I can only describe as a miracle. He picked up my nest and placed it on some rocks where it was safe. Then that kind man said something else, and I knew my prayers were answered. After he turned away, I realized why his voice was so soothing. Why, he had the voice of St. Francis. (refrain)

The next storyteller I’d like to tell you about doesn’t even call herself a storyteller. She will tell you that she is a story listener; that her daughter is the storyteller. Her name is Christine Eveland. She’s ninety-four years young and has volunteered at the St. Louis Storytelling Festival since it started in 1979 (?- year).  But, anyone who knows Christine knows that she is a story teller. Her life is a story. So one Sunday afternoon, after the festival was over, the tellers got a chair, put Christine under a spot light and they all sat at her feet listening to her tell. She told us many tales of the early days of living in South St. Louis; she told us about people she knew and places she visited. But, the story that remained with me was about the time she saved a little baby robin from certain death as she was going to Mass one Sunday morning. Of course, in those days everyone “dressed for church.” She had on her flowered dress, her white gloves, and a cute, blue pillbox hat. As she walked along, she saw a bird with a broken wing crying for help in the gutter. “Oh, you poor dear,” said Christine. “If you’re still here when I come back, I’ll take you home with me.” After church, the bird was still there. She took off her hat and placed him inside. When she got home she nursed him and patched his wing until he was able to fly. They became such good friends that she named him “Sweetie.” One day she released Sweetie in the park.  After that, he would often fly down for a short visit whenever Christine came to the park. Today, I’d like to tell you Sweetie’s story:

I knew I was too young to fly, but once I got some feathers I just had to try. At first everything seemed great, but then a strong wind came along and I fell into a gutter. Ow! I hurt my wing. I cried for my mother, but she couldn’t hear me. I cried at the people that passed by, but the cars and trucks made too much noise. I gave it up, when I saw her – a pretty little lady with the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. In some ways I thought I knew her. She looked down at me and said that she would come back after me, if I’d just stay put. Like I had somewhere to go! I was so happy when she came back. She took that strange bird’s nest from the top of head and placed me inside. Somehow, I knew everything was going to be okay. When we got back to her house, she fed me different foods than worms and bugs, but I ate everything she gave me. She put something on my wing so it didn’t hurt anymore. Soon my feathers grew out shiny and full. My wings were strong. So, I decided one day to try that flying thing again. To my surprise… I flew! Wow! I flew all over that porch. When Christine came into the room, I was always anxious to show her a new trick I learned. “Watch this, Christine,” I’d chirp. Then she’d clap and say, “Oh, Sweetie, I knew you could do it!”  I was happy living there with Christine, but one day she came into the perch and I could some sadness in those kind, gray eyes of hers. She said something I didn’t understand. She said, “Sweetie, it’s time for you to go home.”  Home? I was home…or so I thought. That day she brought me to a place that can only be described as Paradise. It was full of trees, and grass, and big luscious worms! “Okay, Sweetie, you’re home now.” I didn’t have to be told twice. I flew up to the top of the tree. I watched as tears of joy and sadness ran from those beautiful eyes of her, and she turned away. It was then that I figured it out. I knew I had seen those eyes before. Why, she had the eyes of St. Francis. (Refrain)

The last storyteller I’d like to tell you about is named Jeff – Jeff Miller.  What can I say about Jeff. He’s always running off to far-off places to save the whales or wild coyotes. But, Jeff also understands that there are many animals that need our help right here at home. He’s a well-known face at the animal shelters in St. Louis. He wants to make sure that every animal is treated with the respect that all life deserves. One day he was visiting a shelter, when he felt the eyes of a caged animal follow him around the room. It was a rather scruffy looking dog. His fur grew in patches, one ear was gone, and his tail came to an abrupt bob. Every time he looked his way, he gave a sharp bark. He tried to ignore that pull he felt, until finally he gave in and adopted yet another dog. I’d like to tell you Scruffy’s story:

I’m a dog of the streets! Yeah, I been around the block a time or two. I know the dogs to hang with… and the ones to avoid like the plague. That’s how I lost this ear. I was rummaging through some garbage cans when this big dog comes over like he owns the place. Well, I didn’t give up without a fight I tell you that much, but I lost my ear to that mangy mutt. My tail is a different “tale.” I admit I got a little cocky playin’ chicken with the mail truck. I like to scare those trucks by barking and chasing ‘em down the street. But, one day I wasn’t watchin’ what I was doin’ and wham! There went my tail. Then tragedy struck. Ya see, I know the dog catcher and the dog catcher know me – right? Well, we got this game we play with each other. It’s called “Let’s see if the dog can get away this time.” The rules are pretty clear, and I beat that dogcatcher at his game every time…except the last. I ran down this alley thinkin’ it was a way out, when I found out it was a dead end. It was a dead end all right – my dead end. Ya see, I know the handwritin’ on the wall when I see it. Every dog worthy of the streets knows what happens when you get caught. You get taken to this pound for three days. If nobody claims you by then, your number is up and it’s curtains for sure. Well, I got taken to this pound. And to tell you the truth, it wasn’t half bad – I mean three squares a day and all the fresh water you want. I can’t say I like the cage all that much, but you can’t have everything. Well, the first day I was there all these people come in lookin’ for their little pooches – oh, you know – the  chiquauas (sp?), the shitzoos (sp?), the poodles. Poodles – shmoodles! The people come in cryin’ and carryin’ on about their little doggies. Nobody ever cried a tear about a dog with its ear chewed off. The next day other people came in to adopt a dog. That’s right. They let people give a home to some Heintz 59 variety. But nobody wants to adopt a dog with its fur half scratched off – like I got a case of the fleas or somethin.’ 

Well, day three came, and I knew what that meant. It was time for me to take a one way ticket to doggie heaven, when this guy comes walkin’ in. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just knew that face. He had a kind face, but kinda scruffy lookin’ too. So, I think – okay, buddy boy, this is your last chance. So’s I start starin’ real hard at this guy. He turned around to look at me!…but, then he turned away. I started listenin’ to the guy sittin’ at the desk. He acted like he knew this guy. He even called him “Jeff.”  So, I started to call him, “Juff, Juff, Juff!” Finally, he comes over to my cage and looks at me with that kind face of his. He says to me “What’s the matter fellow? You need some body to love you ol buddy?”  I tilt my head and give him my best “good dog” imitation, when he says to the other guy. “I think this is the dog for me.” I couldn’t believe my good ear! I’m thinkin’,  “This guy likes me, he really, really likes me!” Well, after that, me and Jeff we’re best buds. No more street life for this dog. I’m livin’ on easy street from then on. But, ya know every time I look up at Jeff’s face, I can’t help, but think I always knew this guy. But, for the life of me I can’t figure out who it is. (Refrain)

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