All Beings Need Safety to Thrive

photograph of a white child, shown in profile, holding a field bird gently in their hands

First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is part of an interfaith group offering sanctuary to a family facing deportation. Our congregation provides round-the-clock volunteers every Wednesday at a neighboring church where the family is staying.

It can be challenging to explain to children what we are doing, and why. We might start a conversation about sanctuary by helping them imagine what it would feel like to be safe all the time.

A few years ago, at an Audubon wildlife sanctuary, I went for a hike into the woods with a tour guide who taught us how to feed the birds. She gave us a little bit of birdseed and had us lift it up, hands out flat. A chickadee came and landed right in my hand! The bird was amazingly light. Its feet were a bit tickly. It stayed longer than I expected, eating and then seeming to enjoy sitting with me, in light filtering down through the leaves of tall oak trees. The birds there had been protected from hunting and other dangers. They had always been fed from people’s outstretched hands. They weren’t afraid of us at all. They had learned to come close to people for gentleness and food.

Though my own yard has many bird visitors, I’d never experienced anything like this. The birds I had seen eating crumbs on city streets seemed jumpy, flying away at little disturbances. It got me thinking about how differently we can feel and behave—how we can relax, be calm, connect with others, and thrive—when the right conditions of safety are met. This can be just as true for people as for birds, and it is something children can understand.

It was a real gift to have that chickadee sit on my hand.