Sunday, April 1, 2012

For the Birds

I've been watching "Frozen Planet" on the Discovery Channel with my husband and daughter lately. I've always been fond of penguins -- they are my favorite things to watch at the zoo. They're adorable, of course, but there's another layer to them than what most people see on the surface. You can watch the live, 24-hour penguin cameras at Sea World and see something pretty interesting. There is a land cam and an underwater cam.

If you take a good look, you'll see that, adorable as they might be, penguins are slow and awkward on the surface. They waddle. They look funny. One might take a quick glance at them and make all these judgments: they're not "real" birds, because they can't fly. They don't look majestic. They don't have feathers. They're just funny little beings with no real purpose.

Look below the surface, my friend. This awkward, flightless fowl is majestic beneath the water. It gathers massive speed, swiftly pivots back and forth, propelling itself ahead and bursting up and out onto the land. In its element, the funny little being is phenomenal. No, it can't fly. No, it can't run. But it can swim like nobody's business.

On the other hand, I've always known the beauty and majesty of the eagle. I recall seeing an eagle soaring in the Upper Peninsula one time, effortlessly gliding through the sky. They're known for being such regal creatures, American icons. But have you ever seen an eagle underwater? Or trying to run very far, for that matter? No. It's not their element. And if they tried, they'd fail miserably -- just as miserably as the penguin fails at flying.

And finally, the ridiculous-looking, gangly freakish ostrich. Yeah, that's what we usually think when we take a look at this gigantic bird. They also can't fly. They also can't swim. But they can take off and run at speeds upwards of 40 MPH -- faster than you can probably pedal your bicycle on a sunny day. They are incredible, majestic creatures... when they are in their element.

All of this is to illustrate a point. I've been looking at my life all wrong. I've been striving to be, hoping to be, praying to be, taking steps to be an eagle. I want to have that effortless glide all my own. I want to be sky-high, overlooking the earth, ruling the air. I've failed miserably, a hundred thousand times, at being an eagle. I'm not majestic -- I'm ordinary, if not completely awkward. I set myself up for failure more times than not, and I trip over my own feet when I try to set goals, change my life, be better, succeed.

This is because, I have finally realized, I am not an eagle.

I am a penguin.

When I am in my element -- quietly writing -- I thrive. I can get so much accomplished, type at ludicrous speeds, pour my heart and emotions onto pages and bring things to life that I cannot accomplish in any other way. I can't talk people into things. I can't act or sing with precision. I can't serve coffee without becoming disgruntled. I can't draw to save my life. But when I write, though I make mistakes, it seems right to me, in my soul. Tidying grammar, painting a word picture, drawing with sentences, creating with paragraphs -- it's my element.

I am a penguin.

Now that I've stumbled upon this realization, I have to focus all my energy on being the best, most penguiny-penguin I can be. I have to weed out distractions, throw all my soul into succeeding beneath the water instead of soaring and crashing above it. I have to make my living in a way that makes sense to me instead of tripping over my own ambitions to be something I was never meant to be.

I'm done with standing on land. I'm diving in.

Here goes.

Stephanie Jean

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