A few years ago, my parents and I were in Minneapolis following a family wedding. I went out on a morning run and my dad met me at the end of it to head back to our hotel. As we were walking on the sidewalk, we came to a four-way intersection, and saw a mother mallard with a single duckling. I found that odd: for her to have just one. I found it even more odd that she was nervously hovering on the curb of such a busy intersection quacking non-stop. As we approached she didn’t scoot away, but remain fixed. I then saw that just below the curb was a grate, and about 2 – 3 meters down were 11 ducklings separated from their mother and single sibling. The spaces in the grate were smaller than mama’s foot, but just the right size for a duckling to slip through.
As my dad and I were pondering how to help, two cyclists came by on their commute to work. When they saw our distress, they stopped. And after we explained, one quickly hopped to it, pulling the grate off and going down into the opening. He then proceeded to pass ducklings up to me and the other cyclists while my dad tried to herd the mother duck away from traffic (she’d ventured out into the street at this point, perhaps losing the will to live in her remorse?). There was a river about 100 meters away, and 7 ducklings clutched to my chest, I jogged gently down to the river. The mother got the idea and flew down that way. I was reluctant to let the little fledglings go, to be honest – they were downy soft and preciously delicate, and having them close to my person, embraced to me, was intoxicatingly comfortable. I did release them though, because it was a must.
Today I am to present a bit of my partially-developed thesis ideas in a semi-public forum, at a workshop, to scholars of various disciplines. It is a short presentation (less than 10 minutes, thank goodness), but still – I’m terrified. Maybe there was a mistake here? I mean, I feel like I’m going to a white-tie soirée and I’m clad in sweat pants & hoodie (“one of these things is not like the other…”)
More than that, the terror comes from the fact that my research ideas don’t feel ready for viewing, and I don’t feel ready for viewing either. My notions (I can’t even bring myself to call them “arguments”) feel like those duckling fledglings – downy soft and preciously delicate. I want to keep them clutched to my chest. I want them to remain safely inside my head and typed up on files only I, and my supervisor, have seen.
Actually, these ideas of mine feel a few developmental stages back from those ducklings – they feel like nestlings: still half in the shell, denuded of feathers, eyes half-shut, barely breathing, and certainly nowhere near ready for flight. They’re hardly even ready for light. I want safely back in the shell, or at least to keep my wing over them to shield them from the sun, to protect them from public scrutiny: “I know…they look a little malformed now…but I assure you, they’ll look better once their feathers come in!” My ideas feel fragile, egg-shell thin, a flicker on wet wood. The wind of review might snuff them out before they had a chance to take flame.
I am listening to Rob Bell’s How to Be Here and in part of it he says:
“Nerves are God’s gift to you, reminding you that your life is not passing you by. Make friends with the butterflies. Welcome them when they come, revel in them, enjoy them, and if they go away, do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position where they return. Better to have a stomach full of butterflies than to feel like life is passing you by.”
In theory, I believe this is true, and solid advice for how to live your life. In practice, however, I find I don’t want anything to do with butterflies (thanks anyway). I remember when I first heard about this workshop, and realized its topic was a rather good fit for what I’m working on, and then the butterfly feeling hit and I immediately thought: “Absolutely not. No thank you. Don’t want any of that here.”
And then I submitted an abstract. And here I am chasing down butterflies.
I am sharing this butterfly episode with you (thanks for reading), not as a means of complaining about my nerve-stricken plight, and absolutely not to fish for encouragement – I am hoping it might prove a prompt for you to chase your own butterflies, and make friends with them.
So here is to hoping those winged things don’t go away for you or for me (I guess). I’ll try to make friends with them today – if you will too someday? Because, it seems a must.