When our family moved to Searcy years ago, we discovered a community of water fowl in the lake behind our house. We named them, of course, names like Father Goose, a solid white Snow Goose, Knothead, who we kindly renamed Grandfather Goose, and Gracie the Toulouse Goose. The three came banded together as one tight clique.
Baron the Heron and Jane the Crane were obviously a couple as they fished off the log. The six ducks that scurried towards the thrown-out corn kernels and murmured serious quakes to one another all looked alike. So we simply named them Huey, Luey, Dewey, Sewey . . . you get the picture.
Yet, all alone, was a black and white duck whose body was the size of a goose, just squashed down into duck form. He was an odd-looking thing with his eyes and part of his beak covered with a mask of red garbled/turkey gobbler lumpy stuff. When he walked, his head bobbed six inches out in front of him. Once his body caught up to his head, his rhythmical stride repeated. A permanent scowl was imprinted on his mask.
He was a Muscovy duck, we soon learned, and my husband Bill quickly named him, “Weird AL.” (My apologies to all the normal Als we know.) We often just called him “Weird” for short, and Weird became a permanent fixture on our property.
Each morning when I threw out their scoops of kernel corn on the slope, Weird was the first to greet me, that is, scowl me. Once his portion was poured, inches from his watchful eyes, he offered a nod of acceptance. I respectfully acknowledged with a smile. I so wanted him to like me, yet, trusting me was crucial for his survival.
Funny, how even as the other water fowl gathered for breakfast–the gaggle of geese eating before the ducks hierarchically, of course–Weird never once hung out or connected with the others.
I felt a lot like Weird when we moved to Searcy. Whether I was at church, the school where I taught, or even on vacation, I discovered almost everyone was somehow connected to this community. For some it was the same university, others went as far back as kindergarten, and more than not were linked through church.
I was continually surrounded by conversations of their relationships and all the others they knew, and how and what those other strangers to me were doing. After several years of listening to the same ole stories and names with all their connections, I not only felt like odd-woman-out, I was odd-woman out. I could hear myself heaving a deep sigh, and I began the boring habit of pushing my cuticles back with my thumb. “Name droppers,” I determined, not knowing many of the repeated names and links that bound them.
That is until one of our sons was diagnosed with brain cancer. Within the first 24-hours our family was covered in continual prayers and blessed with encouragement and meals from those I worked with at school and those we worshipped with at church and Bible study. A few years later when I was in an accident, Nita in the high school office organized meals for weeks, knowing I couldn’t cook with my disabled right arm, and somehow knowing Bill couldn’t cook either, well, because, Bill just can’t cook.
Mrs. A’s sixth-grade girls created a fancy meal; Mrs. B’s senior girls’ class also developed their sharing power. And the chicken enchiladas–Carol and Kim’s recipe with real cream–remains a family favorite. Only then did I realize I was connected. I was actually a part of this community’s family. How’d I miss that?
Funny how we miss things, especially concerning ourselves. Not many months later, Bill and I went with another couple to Little Rock to the Arkansas Rep for a theater production. While walking to the ladies’ room, I ran into an old friend of my mother’s. Mother’s friend and I chattered away, both completely caught up on how everyone was doing.
During the hour-ride back home, I shared about my mother’s friend and all the connections we had. I was dropping names all over the car, just in case, of course, the other couple might know some of them. When I stopped to take a breath, I realized the couple and my husband were drowning in a sea of boredom. I must have missed their frustrated sighings and pushing back all their overgrown cuticles.
Maybe, we’re all name-droppers, names that identify people we love and trust, or people we don’t.
Even now as I type this, I’m on the edge of my computer chair, the part that slopes to the floor. My feet are planted in front of me, balancing me so I don’t slide off. “Why?” you might ask. Simply so my black and white cat Einstein can stay curled-up in the rounded special back support meant for me. It keeps me connected to my beloved feline friend. Weird, huh?
Connections–we all should have them. I hurt for those who don’t. In the school where I taught before we moved here, I was on lunch duty the week after Thanksgiving. I overheard the security officer ask the boy who was tagged as a Weird Al how his Thanksgiving was. This ninth-grader who appeared to be eighteen paused in his shuffle, his chin-length hair covered most of his face as he looked downward, he was always looking downward. “Had a Coke and a bag of chips,” he mumbled. “Mom had to work.”
I felt a stab of pain for the boy whose appearance and behavior had always frightened me. How quickly I had judged him. I didn’t have a clue. I wonder now if he ever connected anywhere, hoping he might have developed relationships, good ones with those who valued him and he could learn to value theirs. Everyone, as isolated and cantankerous as some seem, wants to belong.
That thought was reiterated while in southwest Florida. While walking along Naples’ Beach, Bill and I enjoyed watching the tiny Snowy Egrets fishing along the shoreline. Except for one day on my way to an art lesson, I noticed one running around the bank parking lot in the middle of town. His little head twisting around every which way as though lost.
“Emily, there’s a Snowy Egret in the parking lot,” I announced to my art teacher, expecting her to call a hotline for its safe transfer to its natural habitat.
“Oh, it’s fine,” Emily said with a laugh. “I see them all over town. It’s like they want to be a part of what we’re doing.”
I understood. Sometimes, I too venture into places that don’t feel like my natural habitat just to feel a part.
At our church, Fellowship Bible Church, women are gathering from 5-8 on Sunday, November 18, 2018. (There’s a place for men to gather, too.) If you live close, please join us.
And with the holidays approaching, I challenge you to reach out to at least one person who seems disconnected. Pray for them, share a meal, help them feel they matter.
If you don’t have family, find a church family and attend its Thanksgiving lunch/dinner and a Christmas celebration. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. Let’s learn the art of connecting.