Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Penguin In the Barnyard

Who would have thought it possible? Who would have thought that a penguin could survive, thrive even, in a barnyard? Common sense would tell us that the climate and environment of the average barnyard would not sustain such polar creatures. They need ice. They are sustained by sea life. Don’t they live half of their lives in the water? And aren’t they more of a herd animal, living in communities with other penguins? So how is it possible that I am now watching one waddle around with the pig and the horse and the cow and the rooster in our barnyard?
Leave it to Olivia, my two-year-old daughter to figure it out. She just pulled it out of her toy box, wound it up, and let it loose. At first it knocked over the horse and then banged repeatedly into the side of the barn, but in the long run, I think this arrangement will work out. Olivia has even made a bed for the penguin in the Silo conveniently attached to the barn. The rest of the animals were made by Fisher Price, but they seem to be accepting of this toy with no identity other than a tiny oval sticker on its bottom that reads, “Made In China.” The other animals are made of plastic, and it has fur. It hops around and they have to wait to be moved, but everyone seems to be getting along okay.
Toy mixing of this kind comes natural to Olivia, but it drives her father and me crazy- we want the big doll with snap on accessories to stay in her corner of the room while the little dollhouse family carries on in their own home. But she won’t hear of it. The afternoon is much more exciting for everyone when the oversized doll with snap on accessories comes over and crowds the entire dollhouse den. Don’t ask snap on doll to have a seat. For one thing, she’d never fit into any of the furniture, but she also doesn’t bend, so its not likely she can stay for dinner. However, I guess she could participate in the dollhouse family’s favorite after dinner activity-- sliding off the roof.
I guess at some point I’ll have to explain to my daughter that penguins have special needs which probably can’t be met in our barnyard. And if she ever brings home a giant friend, logistically we’ll have to have a picnic, but at least for now she is teaching me to unlearn some ideas I’ve bought into over the years. I need her to remind me that where you came from and what size you are doesn’t determine who you get to play with. And perhaps I should make it a practice to be more comfortable and intrigued by these unlikely marriages and be quicker to ask, “why not?” There’s something more to be learned here. I want her clearheadedness. I long for her unfettered imagination.
For the sake of convenience, my tendency is to categorize, compartmentalize, label. Not just toys, but people, roles, tasks, ideas, all of it. It is as if I believe that by placing something within a group, I’ll be able to master it, fully comprehend it, control it. I assign a definition to make it definite. But on a daily basis, and in the most creative ways, my daughter is teaching me that in doing this, I’m making each of these things less of what it could potentially be. In my desire to control, I limit. I take away possibilities when I choose these shortcuts to comprehension.
Where else can this apply? Am I missing entire portions of the life before me? What am I not letting in? Madeleine L’Engle once made the observation that the words healed, whole, and holy have the same root word. This rings true to me. To the extent that I am thinking, working, living within my determined “sections,” I am not witnessing or experiencing the whole. And where I am not whole, there I am broken, not well, unhealthy. And perhaps the holiest of moments are those in which I capture a glimpse of something beyond the range of my trained eyes. What is a holy moment if it is not a vision of something bigger than the comfortably familiar? Is it not a further understanding of what it could be like to live within the larger picture rather than just functioning within a few random puzzle pieces?
A few weeks ago in church, during the Litany of Healing, we spoke in chorus of abundant life, soundness of mind, serenity of spirit. We read together, “Lord, grant your healing grace to all who are sick, injured, or disabled, that they may be made whole.....Restore to wholeness whatever is broken by human sin, in our lives, in our nation, and in the world. ... O Lord of Life: Heal us, and make us whole.”
What I must acknowledge and confess is that more than not, I am functioning as a bunch of broken pieces, with a broken perspective on a broken world in which a bunch of other broken pieces are walking around. (Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, anyone?) We all desire wholeness but then try to attain it through broken means. We want to “organize” our lives, we want to be “balanced,” we need to get “control” of things. And again we’re back to using the dirty devices that got us into so much trouble in the first place. No human should be summed up by their occupation, salary, familial title, or their blog. Everyone is so much more. We have curiosities, interests, ponderings, dreams, visions, conversations, pasts, and all of these little, immeasurable pieces work together to make us who we are. We, each of us, are magnificently complicated. On the few occasions that I do operate outside of my presupposed categories, new things happen.
So how do I pursue wholeness? How do I begin to mend? How do I escape these fragmented perceptions? Where do I start? I don’t know. No doubt it will be a life long pursuit. And I think it begins with this awareness, this commitment to take captive another thought, another circumstance that arises, and question my labels, my categories, my definitions. Invite the penguin into the barnyard and savor the beauty of unlikely marriages. Look for these holy moments in unlikely places. See the mundane as magical. Practice alchemy.


BKicklighter said...

Well said.
well written.
Thank you.

Becca said...

Very cool. Very good and true and challenging.

katy said...

YES! I've learned these things from Ada as well. An observation I've made recently is that, ironically, it can take much more energy to keep things in their "places" than not (in a literal, toy-organizing sense). I wonder if the same isn't true of us, in our world, trying to keep everything defined. How much energy do we needlessly spend, in an attempt to save ourselves some potential messiness?

aspiring_musician said...

I always love reading your perspective on things, Liz. Thanks for sharing this insight.

Darlin' Joy said...

Happy Birthday!

southernjoy said...

beautiful writing!