A curious thing happened one early afternoon. It was the first time the baby chicks had a chance to play outside their brooder box on the sunroom floor. They needed to understand there was a much bigger world waiting for them once they were old enough to leave the warm safety of the brooder box.
Since I didn’t want to chase fourteen excited baby chicks around in every direction, they had their playtime in small groups rather than all at once. But I did try to keep those who seemed like best friends together.
They all had a turn to explore and play. Lefty probably had more than one turn, but he would not have been Lefty if he hadn’t tried. Bessie and Gracie were last, and I made sure it was just the two of them because of how timid Gracie was about protecting her side.
When I placed them down on the floor, they looked around, but they didn’t start discovering new things like the others had done. Instead, they stayed in one spot and looked up at my knees.
They peeped and cheeped back and forth as if they were discussing something very important. Bessie did most of the peeping and cheeping, and then she gently nudged Gracie towards me.
Gracie walked over to me, one slow and hesitant step at a time. I was sure she would run back to Bessie if I moved even the least little bit.
She took a deep breath, and her little body trembled for a moment as she looked all the way up at my belt.
Bessie said a long string of peeps and cheeps quite sternly. If I had understood at the time, I would have known she had told Gracie, “When your heart is full of love, there is no place for fear. Don’t be afraid of The Big Scary Thing.”
Gracie looked all the way up and up at my chin.
“PeeP! CheeP!” she said.
She looked back at Bessie to see if she had said whatever she was supposed to say correctly.
She must have because Bessie peeped back at her happily and gave her several big wing flaps as a sign of approval.
Gracie looked at me and all the way up and up and up into my eyes. I was sure she would fall over backwards at any moment.
“PeeP? CheeP?” she asked.
She waited politely for me to answer, never taking her eyes off mine.
“You must have something very important on your mind,” I said, “But I don’t understand what that is. Maybe it would help if you hopped up onto my shoe and showed me when you told me.”
And that is exactly what she did. She hopped right up onto my shoe, the shoe of The Big Scary Thing.
“PeeP! CheeP!” she said and then stood on her little toes and spread out her wings.
Whatever “PeeP? CheeP?” meant, it was important to her even though I didn’t understand.
Maybe she wanted to know if they were allowed to play in the big room with the warm afternoon sunlight streaming across the floor.
“Yes,” I said. “Here you can do anything your heart dreams.”
They both must have understood me because their eyes sparkled with joy. Gracie began to run and leap back and forth in front of me, and then Bessie copied what she was doing. Whatever I had agreed to had delighted them, and that delighted me in a most unexpected way.
It would be several more months before I would learn how to listen with my heart, but it was something they had known how to do from the day they hatched. They had understood me perfectly.
These two were different, and I wondered why. None of the other baby chicks had acted this way when they had their turns at playing in the sunroom.
Some of them would try to find things to hop up onto. Others would look for things to hide under and explore inside. None spoke directly to me, only this one that The Sales Clerk had dismissed as not quite good enough.
Back and forth they went and then around and around. As I sat and watched, they would chatter together and then run and leap some more. Occasionally, they would look up at me and cheep happily.
I wondered if they wanted me to join them in whatever game it was they were playing, and I probably would have if I could have. But my feet are too big and too clumsy, and it was more fun simply watching the two of them.
Gracie did not seem to be troubled about the lump on her side when she was playing with Bessie. It did not prevent her from doing whatever it was she had told me she wanted to do more than anything else. There on the sunroom floor with her best friend, she was free to be herself and to do whatever her heart desired.
“Little girls, it’s time to join the others,” I said at last when they seemed exhausted from their running and leaping.
“You probably need something to eat and drink after all this exercise. But you can play again tomorrow and the day after and the day after that one too.”
Gracie spread out her first tiny tail feathers and did what looked amazingly like a ballerina curtsy.
“One day when you are dancing on the grandest stage in all of Paris, I hope you will remember that your first stage was my shoe.”
She stood on her tiny toes and nodded as if to promise that she would. Then she hurried over to where Bessie was waiting, and I gently scooped them up together and return them to the brooder box.
And so, The Big Scary Thing was scary no more.