Can a mistake, deeply regretted, be redeemed by focused effort? According to a story told by the well-known broadcast journalist, Paul Harvey, the answer to that question is “yes.”
Harvey once wrote about a boy named Walter Elias who lived on a farm near Marceline, Missouri. The beauty and wonder of the outdoor world apparently intrigued Walter, because he was a frequent explorer among the willows near his home and the apple grove that lay beyond them. There he could imagine himself a part of great adventures.
One day when Walter was seven years old, he was wondering among the trees when he spotted a small feathered shape resting in the branches just ahead of him. It was an owl, and it appeared to be fast asleep. Walter thought that if only he could catch this wild creature he could take it home and make it his pet. He crept slowly toward the sleeping figure, reached out a hand, and grabbed the little owl by its legs.
Immediately, the bird awoke and began to resist its captor. It screeched, beat its wings wildly, employing its claws and beak in its defense against Walter. Unprepared for the bird’s attack and a bit frightened himself, Walter threw the bird down upon the ground and stomped on it. And then, in the deadly quiet that followed, Walter stood and wept with regret over the twisted wreck of beautiful feathers that lay at his feet. He left the scene to get a shovel, and when he returned he buried the little owl, without telling anyone what had happened.
Walter dreamed for months about that owl, and his sensitivity to its beauty and its fragile life was probably a factor in Walter’s choice of occupation. He began drawing, and eventually Walter became an artist who portrayed countless animals insightfully and engagingly. Cartoons and motions pictures were filled with clever depictions of the animals he loved and respected. And yes, for years and years, Walter Elias Disney has helped all of us to appreciate and love those animals, too. Walt Disney’s tragic mistake, regretted but redeemed, helped the world to see with his eyes, acknowledging the mysterious wonder of the intricate web of life around us.
Probably every one of us has some regret to ponder. Whether the mistakes we can claim were innocent blunders or more purposeful deceits or betrayals or offences, most of us can name a thing or two we wish we could undo. But time doesn’t flow in reverse to allow for such undoing. Yet, its forward flow makes for endless possibilities – forgiveness, reparation, renewal, redemption. Centuries ago the Bible’s psalmist pleaded: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” That recreation is always available. If we allow ourselves to be reshaped and reformed, even after we’ve failed, what could we achieve? Could we help others to see with our eyes, a better way? Imagine the possibilities.