Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Two Faces of a Swan

Do you ever get that message on your computer as you wait an interminable time for a page to load: "Not Responding."
"No kidding! I never dreamed it was something you weren't doing properly, my dear Dell, I just thought that God had put a stop to time."
The computer doesn't understand sarcasm however, and remains unresponsive until it decides it is good and ready to begin working again.

I don't love lack of response. I don't love it in computers, in my children, or in my prayers. It I ask a question or make a request, I expect an answer. And given the exceptionally rapid connection between my sensory and motor neurons, I expect an answer quickly. Some people refer to my personality type as "hyper". i prefer to think of it as "super conductivity between nerve synapses."

I headed to the swan lake a second time yesterday, hoping again that my prayers for the lonely male swan would be answered. I prayed that his mate would have returned. Instead, the lake was swarming with boats, and men with long poles with nets on the end, circling around the poor swan. I hurried to the water's edge where a woman with a large, fancy camera stood filming. I presumed she was a reporter of some kind.

"What's going on?" I asked.
"They are trying to catch him," she said, "He's injured and they hope to bring him to the humane society."
He looked fine to me, though frightened, as he continued to elude his captors. I presumed that since he didn't fly away, he was unable to fly. I know when he came to the lake, he had been injured in some way as the Neighborhood Association had gotten the pair of swans from a Bird Rehab center.
"He looks ok," I said.
"This side of him does," she answered, "But a snapping turtle got him. Ripped off half his face on the other side."
The swan turned and I saw what she was talking about. I saw how capturing the swan would be a kindness.
(This is not exactly the answer to prayer I was going for, I whispered to God.)
"What happened to the mate?" I asked, choking back tears, "Did the turtle kill her?"
"No, she flew away before this happened."
She flew away!? That ungrateful hussy.
"The male swan will often starve himself to death if the mate leaves. They mate for life," she said.
I knew then what had happened. The swan I had seen moping for his mate all week, never leaving the center rock in the lake, had stopped eating. His strength gone, he had succumbed to the advances of a snapping turtle. I was almost certain turtles never attacked grown swans, only babies. He must have already been weak.
I watched a little while longer, but unable to stand it any more, headed back home. I didn't want to write about this. It makes me unbearably sad. But it is impossible to not write about what fills my heart.

I am reading (again) Daniel Deronda by George Elliot. It is a great classic, and one everyone should read, as soon as they finish my book, I am Listening with a Broken Ear. In it, the protagonist is tormented by her own guilt over a choice she made that improved her life, but at the expense of others. She asks a friend, who has unwittingly become  her conscience: what would be best- to be miserable oneself or to be the cause of another's misery? He answers immediately, not knowing the specifics of her situation, that the first is far better.
"But what if you have no choice?" she asks.
"Then," he tells her, "Do everything you can to spread goodness. If you can't help the one you harmed, then perhaps you can help others."

I do believe this is the only antidote to the horror of life. There are two sides of life, and sometimes it is the beautiful face of a swan, but sometimes it turns and the destruction, and suffering, and agonies of loneliness, betrayal,and despair are exposed. I suppose first one should decide whether to be the female swan that flew away, or the lonely, ruined male she left behind. I pray that whenever I can, I choose not to consciously inflict pain on others. And if the choices I make have led to the irreversible pain of others, the best I can do now is try to find ways to bring joy to the world I have yet to encounter. Horrifying as it is, it is better to be the ruined, dying swan.

I liked the symbol of the swans, I told God, lying in bed feeling depressed, all the way until the mate flew away. And did the poor swan who was left really have to go through all that agony? Why do your lessons have to include pain?

God didn't answer. Instead, He put me to sleep, and sent me a dream. It was a dream so beautiful, so hopeful, so redemptive that I didn't want to wake up. And when I did wake up, I could not remember the dream, only its joy.

1 Corinthians 10:23-25

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

No comments:

Post a Comment