Saturday, April 6, 2013

Duck, Duck, Soar

A few days ago, on the first house on the morning paper route, I saw a limping duck on the front lawn. Another duck walked beside it, as if to protect it from any would-be villains. I stopped immediately, holding the Daily Mirror for house number 153 in my hands, and watched the limping duck.

One of his legs was bent a bit, though as he sensed my presence it used that bent leg as best he could to flee me. I began to wonder what kind of number I could call about a duck with a bum leg. Who could help? And would it be good if I tried to pick the duck up and bring him somewhere--some kind of medical facility or some local guy who happens to be a Healer of Birds or a retired vet who might be looking for things to do because, hey, retirement is maybe a little more boring than it's cracked up to be.

My mind tracked back ten years, when my oldest brother Chris and I found a sparrow with a broken wing on somebody's lawn one day when we were out for a run. We watched the bird and finally managed to scoop it up, then run back home. We called about a hundred people from the yellow pages, before one of the vets gave us a number for somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who fixed birds.

In his backyard. Seriously.

So we got in the car and drove the hour to the Backyard Bird-Fixer Guy (who happened to be blind). We gave the guy the bird with the broken wing, and he held the bird in his hands, told us he was feeling for the heartbeat, and then said with a deep sadness in his voice that it wasn't good news.

That sparrow died, and I remember feeling crushed. Why? It was, after all, just a bird. Just a sparrow. But the time we spent with that sparrow, the numbers we called, the drive we took--all of it was imbued with such hope, and when we finally met the blind Backyard Bird-Fixer, my storytelling mind was already seeing a beautiful narrative arc to that adventure. Not so.

So as I watched the duck with the bum leg limp away from me, I wanted this time to be different. Sure, the world is a big place and there gender injustice, domestic abuse, children that need families, slavery, trafficking, violence, misogyny, and so many other tragedies to work against. But a few days ago, on my morning paper route, this was this duck.

This duck with a bum leg limping away from me. And for some crazy reason, this duck was what I could see and this duck was what I wanted to fix--some tiny living thing I wanted to see healed. Maybe it was selfish, maybe it was because I needed this duck to be whole again.

Maybe it was because--surely--my heart considered that if I could manage to locate a Blind Backyard Bird-Fixer yet again (this time in England) the narrative arc of this story a decade later would be different. Hope would win.

And then Surprise showed up. Because as I watched the limping duck, and the healthy duck, a car door slammed close by us, and both ducks spread their wings and lifted off the ground and reached up into the sky and sailed towards the River Ouse, a half mile away.

The duck with the bum leg had two wings that were strong and beautiful and bold and capable. And this duck didn't need to be fixed. He was going to make it as is: imperfect, broken, himself.

I suspect there are a lot of us limping around somebody's lawn, and maybe people take a look at us and think, I wonder if there's some guy somewhere who fixes people like that? And if we limp around long enough to listen to the voices that say we're too broken to get up where the air is a little thinner, the view a little better, maybe we start to believe them.

But once in a while something comes along and surprises us. It wakes us up. It gets our hearts beating just fast enough that we remember something deeply important: we can still soar. So maybe we reach out our two beautiful, bold wings, and we feel the wind lift us higher and then we head for thee rushing water.

Where, after all, we can float and a bum leg can't even be seen.

Today, may be remember what the poet Dennis Brutus claimed--that though tenderness may be frustrated, it "does not wither." Tenderness survives, and the soul aches to send us on an adventure beyond somebody's lawn. The soul aches for surprise.