Life Lessons From Water Fowl

I was watching geese the other day.  A mother was leading a whole brood of goslings around a lawn as they all poked around through the grass in search of little food bits.  The little ones were well into their adolescence, and, rather than looking like grey fuzzballs with vague goose-like qualities, they now looked more like adult geese with a few vague fuzz-like qualities.

Childhood duck rebellion: just a phase?

Seeing these gooselets mid-transformation like that made me realize something. I actually had a small epiphany. All by myself. And yes, as dumb as this may be, it was about the story of the ugly duckling.

I have, of course, known this story since childhood (it being a children’s story, and all), and have not given it much thought since. It’s always seemed like a one-trick pony to me as parables go. A duckling is ugly and doesn’t fit in with his peers who mock him about it, until he grows up to discover that he’s not a duck at all but a swan and more beautiful than all those assholes. “You might be ugly now, but someday you can blossom into something beautiful.” Easy enough.

Well, that morning as I watched those geese I realized: I had that story entirely wrong! The moral of the story has absolutely nothing to do with beauty! Looking at it now, it’s easy to see why I made the mistake. I mean even the title The Ugly Duckling leads one to think in terms of ugliness versus non-ugliness.  I’ve always been pretty good at missing the point.

 See, even some swans are ugly…

So I finally get it. That story isn’t about finding your inner beauty or blossoming or any of that bullshit.  It has a much much MUCH better message than that. The Ugly Duckling isn’t the story of an ugly duck who finally achieves beauty, it’s about a fucking swan who’s told his whole life that he’s something he isn’t. It’s about the stories people tell us about ourselves and whether or not we choose to accept those stories. It’s about trying to wedge yourself into a mold that has nothing to do with you in an attempt to fit in.  That little bird’s eventual happiness doesn’t come from finally being beautiful, but from finally understanding what he really is as opposed to what everybody else wanted him to be.

I have no idea whether this was obvious to everyone else or not, but this is a revelation for me and I now LOVE this story. I can relate to it on so many levels! I’m planted firmly in my thirties now, and it’s taken me this long to realize how desperate everyone around me is to make me accept their definition of who I am (and, honestly, how much I do the same bullshit to others).

Anyway, the crux is that if I ever have children, this story is now at the top of my list. I can’t imagine a more important lesson for a child to learn than the notion that they don’t have to accept anyone’s idea of who or what they are except their own. Let ’em tell you you’re a duck all they want- if you feel like a swan, be a damned swan!

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