, Gloucester, MA

October 16, 2013

Midweek Musings: Lessons from a robin in the window

Midweek Musings
Rev. Michael Duda

---- — Early one morning this summer, we were awakened by a strange banging; it was coming from downstairs.

My wife was the first to discover the cause, and with more than a trace of trepidation she called to me saying, “Mike, we have a problem.” There were smudges and white spots all over the large picture window in the dining room, and we both watched with chagrin as a robin repeatedly flew into the window.

It was a large male. He would perch on the deck railing and then charge into the window knocking himself to the ground each time; then, as if in a trance, he would repeat it over and over again. It quickly became obvious what the white spots were — he was literally beating the crap out of himself.

I tried to shoo him away, but every time I stopped he would start up again. My wife is a bird watcher and a bird lover, so she did what any savvy 21st Century seeker would do in a situation like this: she went directly to Google, typed in “robin smashing into window” and wouldn’t you know, up came a detailed explanation of why male robins engage in this crazy behavior.

Apparently, when the light is just right, the bird sees his reflection in the glass and thinks that the handsome, virile male robin he sees in the reflection is another bird encroaching on his turf, threatening his mate and her nest — so he attacks, wildly, over and over again, never quite able to determine that it is, in fact, him.

Obviously, robins are limited in their cognitive abilities, especially males; the concept of glass, a reflection and a sense of self just doesn’t exist for a robin. The Google article suggested taping paper on the window to break up the reflection. I happened to find the previous day’s Times nearby — yes, the editorial page — so I quickly taped it to the glass and the robin flew off convinced I’m sure that he had successfully fought off his foe.

As I reflected on the strange behavior of that robin I couldn’t help but think of the times I had done pretty much the same thing. I confess I’ve tried to fly at a problem, trying the same thing over and over, and ended up just banging my head against the wall.

I think it may have been Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Even more to the point, there have been times I’ve been upset or threatened by what I saw as a problem in someone else, when it was really just a reflection of me.

Psychologists call this “projection” — taking something we don’t like about ourselves and imposing or projecting it on someone else as their problem. Jesus preempted Freud when in Matthew 7:3 he said that we criticize the speck in our neighbor’s eye and fail to notice the log in our own eye.

If you think about a slide projector, images are magnified when they’re projected over a distance, and sometimes we behave just like that robin — hitting the wall over and over again, attacking our own projection, fighting an enemy that is really just a reflection of something we may not like about ourselves.

Sadly, it is often the religious who are the most vicious and vociferous in these attacks. I wonder what that says about what’s in our hearts. I know it makes me look into mine, especially as a person of faith. Perhaps next time we are ready to fly off to attack someone or something we should pause and reflect; maybe, like the robin, the reflection will turn out to be our own.

The Rev. Michael J. Duda is pastor of First Church in Wenham. He can be reached at