The Parable of the Cliche – By Maura Zagrans

I just read this great post by Maura Zagrans and had to share it. In it you will find references to clichés, intuition and a helpless little baby bird. The scene is straight out of a movie and it warmed my heart, as well as reminded me to do something for someone today who may not be able to repay me. For convenience sake, I have copied and pasted the post, but here is a link to her blog for more great stories and excellent writing.

For your reading pleasure:

The Parable of the Cliche

By Maura Zagrans

When Small Town America comes to the rescue, it doesn’t matter who or what is being saved. The drama of a creature in peril being restored to its living destiny is always an event that makes the human heart soar. And don’t you just love it when synchronicity showers you with positive affirmation?

Today, just as I was beating myself up for having used a cliche in writing to (of all people) my editor, I was thrust into a sort of Cliche Black Hole. It seemed as if the universe were either trying to teach me a lesson or make me lighten up on the self-criticism. In the end, synchronicity gave me my reprieve.

It all started when I heard from my friend and editor, Gary Jansen. Knowing I was anxious about whether my rewrite was heading in the proper direction, Gary stole time from his family vacation to send me feedback regarding the manuscript of my forthcoming book. I was elated to learn that he was pleased. He wrote that this was “disciplined writing” and “fine, fine work”. I responded with a text:  “Thanks so much! You made my day! I feel as if I have wings again.”

Seriously? Two exclamation marks? Two cliches? And that thing about the wings–what was I thinking?I was so mad at myself.

Lucky for me, the universe conspired to send a reminder that there are exceptions to every rule. It accomplished this by allowing me to witness Small Town America at its Hollywood best while I was in the act of saving a life.

It was just a little life. A teeny-tiny life. But it was a life nevertheless, the imperilment of which brought Oberlin, Ohio to a momentary standstill.

Like most rescues, the origin of the event was innocuous. My dog and I were leaving Amherst Animal Hospital where our veterinarian, Dr. Mark Gigliotti, had once again gone above and beyond to give Donovan outstanding care. When we left the clinic, I should have gone home. Instead, I turned my car toward Oberlin. I had decided to buy Dr. Gigliotti a gift certificate to one of my favorite restaurants, Weia Teia, as an expression of gratitude.

Let me confess at the outset that I was aware of the stupidity of this decision, for it was move-in day at Oberlin College. I knew that restaurants would be jammed. Downtown parking spaces would be filled. My compulsion was irrational and dumb, but it was not to be denied.

Once I reached Oberlin, I opened my car’s double-sun roof, cracked the windows, and parked beneath a shady tree. The errand took fewer than four minutes to complete. Gift certificate in hand, I was retracing the steps I had just made when my mind smacked me in the face. I stopped. Had I just seen something? Something that was . . . odd? I turned around. I walked a few steps. I peered down. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, was a gray blob. Was it a rock? I leaned over so that I could see it more closely.

The rock looked up at me. In its eyes was an expression of childlike innocence. “Who are you,” the eyes seemed to ask.

All the breath went out of me. I had seen this face before–about a thousand times, as a matter of fact. This was the face of the little bird in Are You My Mother?, P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book and a favorite at the Zagrans Zoo.

I crouched down and talked to the little fella. He sat there, turning his head to view me from different angles, but he did not move from that spot. It was as if he had been glued to the cement (there’s an interesting switch-up), or as if he had no legs. I looked up. I spotted a classic college trio (mother/father/freshman co-ed). I enlisted their services as bodyguards while I fetched paper napkins from my car. I hustled to the car and back, layered the soft napkins in my palms, scooped him up, and cradled him in my hands. He peeked up at me from within the safety of his swaddling. He cheeped. He cheeped again. Then he threw his head back and opened his beak as wide as it would go. I felt an overpowering rush of motherly love and an archetypal instinct to drop nourishment into his mouth.

By this time, the freshman father had spotted the nest from which the bird had fallen. It had been built rather far out on a branch that hung over the sidewalk at a height of about sixteen feet. Just a few feet away, there were half a dozen trees whose branches extend over soft, cushy lawns. Epic Fail on the nest-building.

The mother was now making her presence known. She was a beauty. (That explains it, I thought. She got the looks but not the brains.) She hopped from branch to branch, shrieking all the while.

The freshman mother sought help in a gift shop a few doors up. The shopkeeper at The Ginko Gallery promptly abandoned her store and came outside. She peeked inside the napkin-blankets, ooohed and aaaahed, then made a quick retreat to her store, promising she would bring reinforcements.

Meanwhile, my heart was thrumming with love for this bird. His little face, which was quite expressive, conveyed trust and naivete. I reassured him that he’d be just fine. We had a little talk about leaving the nest too soon. I know this is a college town, I said, and you’re very anxious to explore and hang out with the big guys, but first things first. I didn’t notice the small crowd that was gathering while we were having our heart-to-heart.

– Photo Courtesy of Liz Burges

When I looked up, I saw the lady from the gift store, cell phone in hand–she knew a good photo op when she saw one. Not far behind, three carpenters were traipsing down the street. One of them was carrying a bright yellow ladder. “Who’s going to put the bird in the nest?” he asked. “I am!” I said. The men positioned the ten-foot ladder. I looked up, gauging the distance, and my heart sank. The distance was too great from the top of the ladder to the branch; I would not be able to set the bird inside the nest. One of the men, seeing the expression on my face, seemed to understand. Without saying a word, he held out his hand.

I hated to let my little guy go.

“Use both hands,” I fussed, even as my brain was reprimanding me.  Hey. Bozo. He’ll need at least one hand to climb the ladder.

But the man was kind. He didn’t argue with me. He just held out his grease-covered hand. I surrendered my bundle.

And then began the waiting. I felt so sorry for the Cardinal mother. If I was feeling this helpless, how frenzied must she be feeling? She was sounding her shrill alarms with such intensity, a random thought crossed my mind, and I wondered if birds can suffer cardiac arrest.

The workman went all the way to the top pedestal of the ladder. He extended his right arm to its fullest. Teetering, he caught a branch for balance and the whole tree shook. I feared the nest itself would come tumbling down, but it didn’t. I held my breath as the man fished around in the leafy branches.

And then, from waaaaay up there, we heard the unmistakable sound of triumph.

“He’s in!”

The earthlings echoed, “He’s in, he’s in!” Spontaneous applause burst from our little crowd. It was the most charming standing ovation I have ever seen.

The man climbed down. He folded the ladder and hoisted it over his shoulder. The workmen jumped right into an interrupted conversation in which various possible solutions to a roofing quandary were being bandied about. The freshman parents, who would confront their own empty nest when they returned to their home in Cincinnati, cooed:  they felt good that they would be leaving their daughter in a town like this. The crowd dispersed. I rejoined Donovan. The world resumed its turning.

All the while the rescue was happening, it seemed as if I was experiencing it from two different viewpoints. I was seeing it from my own eyes and, simultaneously, I was observing as if from behind the lens of a movie camera. I realized that this scene was classic, old-time Hollywood–It’s A Wonderful Life without the snow. Put another way, this scene was a cliche.

Cliche. In French, from the past participle of clicher (to stereotype), its original meaning was printer’s stereotype. As a writer, I know that the road to hell is paved with adverbs (and, for the record, I realize that there are far too many of them in this blog post). However, if one wishes to avoid a tedious road trip to hell, forget the adverbs. Use cliches. You’ll find yourself in writer’s hell before you can have a next thought.


Today, with an exceptional example of how some of the best things in life are cliches, Oberlin, Ohio, a.k.a.  Small Town America, showed me why cliches will never die and why they should not be, er, written off. There is saving grace in everything–even cliches.

I had to smile at the synchronicity. At 10:45 in the morning, I texted, “I feel as if I have wings again.” Fifteen minutes later, I would have great need of wings. I would need them so that I could give them to a tiny little fellow who put his trust in me.

As in a vision, the circular nature of God’s grace was revealed. I had been gifted. I listened to the inner voice that told me to follow my heart and, as a consequence, found myself  in the right place at the right time so that I could send my wings back out into the universe, with my blessing. And was blessed.

My heart is still soaring.



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