But I Know They Were Finches

Over Spring Break my mom and my parents-in-law stayed with us. We had many conversations during those ten days, but one that has resurfaced was about birds. Specifically, birds who lived in my mother's house. Birds that I bought and helped name.

John and Marsha.

You know that stereotypical scene in which a man and a woman run toward each other across a field of flowers, yelling each other's names? Almost invariably, their names are "John" and "Marsha." So that's what we settled on for the birds' names.

Those were beautiful birds. John was mostly turquoise, with some white patches and some black and white bars on his wings. Marsha was almost the opposite. Mostly milk-white with some patches of the same turquoise John had. Beautiful.

Later we found out that John was a Marsha and Marsha was a John, but that's another story.

While the parents were visiting, we spent some time in our living room. Just outside our front window we've hung a couple of bird feeders--mostly for entertainment for the cats. We have a variety of birds who stop to eat--starlings, sparrows, mockingbirds, finches, cardinals, mourning doves--and Michele bought a book to help us tell one kind from another. One day we saw some finches and I brought up the subject of John and Marsha, and how we never see finches with that kind of coloration.

"They were parakeets," my mom said.

I disagreed. I knew for a fact that they were finches.

Michele and the Cat Whisperer were also against me. "The description sounds like parakeets," they said.*

I got pretty obnoxious. "You're right," I said. "Except they were finches."

What the hell was wrong with these people? I bought the damned birds. I spent time in the house in which they lived, where John-who-was-really-Marsha died while trying to lay an egg. I'm an intelligent human, and I'm observant to boot. They were finches.

A couple of days ago I stopped at Pet Store to get cat litter, and as I walked to the back of the store I passed some bird cages. I saw a couple of birds that looked just like John and Marsha, so I stopped to read the sign, to confirm my knowledge about those birds and to further establish my omniscience.



Now you're probably wondering why I wrote this on this blog. It's to illustrate that we don't always know what we think we know. That not only can our beliefs be mistaken, but the things we consider to be knowledge are not necessarily so. I knew those birds were finches, but I was wrong. It wasn't knowledge, but belief. And wrong belief at that.

* This is where, if this were an essay written by one of my Comp students, I'd point out that it's unlikely that Michele and the Cat Whisperer said this exact phrase at the same time, which is what my use of quotation marks asserts. And I'd be correct in questioning that. They didn't, in fact, speak this like a pair of synchronized swimmers, but they expressed the idea in quick succession, and I took the artistic liberty of combining their expressions (which I remember inexactly anyway) in a single "quote" for simplicity and for dramatic effect. So there.