The Penguin

Once upon a time, many years ago and in a distant country, I was responsible for the death of a penguin.

As a teenager, I lived on the seacoast edge of Argentina’s Patagonia for a year, with my family. When we prepared to return to the States, I wanted something uniquely Argentine to bring home. The Aerolineas Argentinas airline office held a collection of stuffed penguins, from the stately Emperor stair-stepped down through several species to the two-foot-tall Magellanic Penguin. These were “display models,” but I could order one.

Two weeks later I held the stuffed Magellanic penguin in my arms. Its sleek, white breast feathers were soft as fur, marked by parallel charcoal-gray stripes from its chin to its back. I suddenly realized that not long before, this stuffed creature had been a living, breathing animal. My desire to bring home a piece of Argentina had caused its death. In repentance, I vowed to keep the penguin with me forever.

That vow was soon challenged. Preservation methods suited to dry Argentina at that time were not as thorough as were needed in the more humid United States. In Miami, where it rained and sun shone at the same time, my suitcase started to reek. By the time we reached central Texas, my parents wanted to discard the suitcase and all its contents. I refused. I wasn’t giving up my penguin after causing its death.

The penguin lived in the garage for about four years, until whatever process was at work inside it had completed. Its exterior showed no signs of the battle that waged within. Penguin’s feathers remained downy soft until my cat, which until then had shown remarkably little interest in anything, took to stalking and pouncing on it. Both wings were amputated by the cat.

Over the next forty years, the penguin moved with me from Texas to California, to Colorado, back to California, and from house to house, always occupying a corner of our living room. One of my granddaughters, Haley, took a special liking to it and sat babbling to the penguin for long stretches. Penguins became a theme of our gifts for several years.

Recently, a friend asked why I had a penguin. I related the story. “That’s sad,” she said. I agreed, and realized that over all these years of communicating with animals, I had never asked to speak with the penguin!

A week later, in a space of quiet time, I held my penguin and asked if we could talk.

Penguin said, Yes, speak. Why did it take so long?

“I don’t know. You’ve been such a part of my life for so long, I didn’t realize until recently that I’d never asked to speak with you. I want to apologize for causing your death.”

Penguin said, I would have died anyway. It was a coming together of circumstances. I was not young. I was slower, so was caught. I left my body then, for I did not choose to be captive. I have been penguin many lives. I enjoy this life, however short, of flight through water, of eggs, being part of the cycle even when a sea lion’s jaws close around me. The cycle flows, sometimes faster, sometimes slower.

I asked, “Have you visited me before?”

I come when I am called. Most of my time is with the body where I am, with my family. But we have the connection you forged, for you saw the being beneath the feathers.

I sensed more than one layer of being and asked, “Am I speaking with this penguin or with Oversoul of Penguin?”

Penguin said, It matters not. Talking with me is part of the process of your growth, of releasing your past, the harms you have done and the harm done to you. As each part is released, the soul becomes lighter, and can take flight.

We animals are not necessarily wiser beings than humans, although we are closer to the earth, the sea and land and sky. We know our true selves. Humans struggle to know themselves. We don’t understand why this is so, but accept that it is. The struggle is part of your growth. The greater the potential, the more difficult the struggle. We penguins have tremendous endurance. Think of that when you are struggling. We know well how to live in our environment, thrive, and have fun, too. You could learn from us.

I stand in your home, a reminder of times and adventures past, and of your commitment to self, to animals, to your own family. Teach them about those of us they do not see, that we are real, living beings, not just pictures in magazines and films. We live in and by the ocean, are part of the ocean’s cycles. What happens to the ocean happens to us, and to all life, including you.

If you are looking for something profound, it will not come from me. The true answer is in simplicity, that all are connected, even if it does not feel like it in the moment. Each being holds responsibility for its actions, for those actions affect the whole. That is all there is.

“Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to share?”

Penguin answered, Not for now. That was a lot. I’d like to go swimming now. Call on me any time.

She was gone with a waddle and a splash, leaving me holding a stuffed penguin. A promise I made many years ago has become part of my purpose in being here. It’s never too late to make amends. And so it is.
__________
Photo source: http://www.penguins.com.au/blog/penguin-species/magellanic-penguin/

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"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Gandhi
"There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together." - attributed to Gandhi
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