DAVIS: The quiet impact of a subtle message has lasting power

Subtlety is an art form that, when placed in the hands of the skilled, can deliver a message so seemingly insignificant that it is absorbed without conscious resistance. A well-worded sermon plants a seed that provides strength for the future when comfort is needed. A word of praise from a teacher will silently build confidence for that moment when everything may change for the student.
This week, one of the skilled, passed away. Andy Griffith, whether intentionally or not, subtlety shaped many of us for more than 50 years. His television show, The Andy Griffith Show, was a masterpiece of the delicate balance between human dignity and the actions of others. The quiet messages woven into each script have taught lessons to generations of viewers.
Following the death of Griffith, the Internet was filled with comments from viewers who were touched by the show and characters such as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Aunt Bea, Deputy Barney Fife, Otis Campbell, Floyd the barber and so many more. The characters became as familiar to us as our family.
One episode in particular is widely considered one of the best of all time, not just of the Andy Griffith Show, but in all of television. It’s titled, “Opie the Birdman.”
The episode originally aired Sept. 30, 1963. Opie accidentally kills a bird while playing his new slingshot. Upon seeing the bird fall from the tree in front of his home, Opie picks up the bird. Realizing what he had done, Opie runs to his room, feeling the guilt of his act.
When Andy returns home later, he sees the dead bird on the front lawn. Opie, sitting in his room, hears the chirps of little birds in a nest just beyond his bedroom window. Andy talks to Opie about the dead bird and comes to the conclusion that his son had killed the bird.
What follows is that moment of subtle teaching of which Andy Taylor had become famous and had shown untold numbers of viewers back in 1963 and continuing to this day.
He tells Opie that the birds outside the window were calling out for their mother who would not return. Opie had been the unknowing cause that created a nest full of orphaned birds. Andy, aware of his son’s nature, knew that Opie would “adopt” the orphans and make them his responsibility to raise.
Weeks pass. Opie is diligent in his efforts to do the right thing and becomes attached to the three little birds he has affectionately named Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod. The time had come to release the birds. After all, that’s what the mother bird would have done, said Andy.
Standing on the front porch, his thumbs hooked into his front pants pockets, Andy watches as Opie says goodbye to Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod who had flown away.
Now filled with a sense of accomplishment tinged with a sense of loss, Opie turns to Andy and says, “The cage sure looks empty, don’t it, Paw?” Finding the right message at the right time, Andy responds, “Yes, son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full.”
The message was clear. From pain can come great joy. All it takes is the right frame of mind and point of view.
It would have been easy for Andy to punish Opie by giving him a stern lecture, confining him to his room, or spanking him with a switch. Each of these alternatives falls short of the opportunity to inject a subtle lesson of life that would form the foundation of character for Opie.
The question becomes, were parents back in the 1960s impacted by the subtle messages of the show? This question is difficult to answer. the truth lies within each person to determine. For me, the answer would be yes. My father held many similar traits to Andy Taylor. He was a big man, imposing to a small child. He could have easily scared his children when discipline was needed, but knew it would only teach us to be smarter the next time not to get caught. If he had not learned from watching Andy, a case could be made otherwise.
For example, after my brother and I raided a neighbors garden for potatoes to use as hand grenades in the “Great War of 1969,” our Dad made us clean up the mess, return the potatoes to the neighbor and apologize for our misdeed by asking to come into his home...alone. All the other kids on the block were spanked. To this day, I remember the lesson taught with this subtle message from my father. I wonder if the other kids punished that day can point back to that moment with the same realization of the importance it played in their lives, especially as it relates to parenting their own children.
The Andy Griffith Show is a favorite for many people around this planet. One man impacted many.
With Griffith’s passing, one might ask, “The world sure looks awful empty, don’t it?” To which, I respond “Yes, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full.”

Brent Davis is the managing editor of the Saline Courier. His column appears each Friday exclusively in the Saline Courier. He may be reached at bdavis@bentoncourier.com.