I’ve just returned home from visiting my daughter in Australia for her 21st birthday party. Turning 21 in Australia is a pretty big deal. My iPhone is bursting with images of kangaroos and beaches and the incredible bird life in the forest behind her house. In the mornings, just as the sun was reaching their branches, the gum trees were busy with noisy, colorful parrots heralding each new day.
Surely in all this color-dance of life, I mused, some dazzling magical creature would emblazon itself on my mind and serve as a kind of talisman of creative genius and hopefulness to hold during the long winter days I would face on my return to Canada. But the one image that stuck with me was a small brown duck, abundantly ordinary, nestled peacefully under low hanging branches near the edge of the water. This duck? This is the magic? Did I feel disappointment that the duck would be what I took home with me?
In a few months time my first book, Fireflies, will come out. It’s a project that has taken me more years than I care to remember. In light of the year ahead, I guess I’d been hoping for a King Parrot to take roost, or a pair of Crimson Rosellas darting across a clear blue sky Wouldn’t that have been more fitting for this of all years? But there she was, silent at the edge of it all, no flash of glorious green or display of fiery crimson in those wings. Nope. She was a plain brown duck. I thought about her all the way home.
There are a lot of us brown ducks in the world. We are ordinary. But maybe that’s something to celebrate. We are perfectly suited for the not-so-Kardashian life we live. We get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee and go to work; we get groceries and put gas the car; we let the dog out and open the mail; we do the dishes and get the garbage ready to be put out the next morning; we have bad hair days and we forget to send Christmas cards on time. But we also light the candles on our children’s birthday cakes; we watch hummingbirds from the window; we see tips of the trees grow red and begin to bud. There will be leaves soon.
We watch our children being born and we pray it will all come out right in the end, having witnessed all those trembling first days of school; the sports-day finish line when there was no one, it seemed, but her out there, jumping as best she could in a big brown sack, as if life itself depended on it. We wait for her by the window after her first job interview, holding our breath; we wait for the phone call to see if she’s been accepted to study law at Wollongong University, as if life itself depended on it.
And then she is 21. I watch her whole world arrive for the party, mostly people we’ve never met, and there she is, greeting guests, smiling and confident, the gracious hostess with silver plates of hors d’oeuvres, welcoming the world, looking for me, her mother, now and again, just to make sure I’m alright. There is no need for me to light the candles on the cake. I nestle in peacefully up under the branches, still enough to enjoy it all. I am so darn proud of her.
When I am home, I look again at the photos, us laughing in the field by her house before anyone else arrived, her in her bright pink dress, spinning in this color-dance of life she has fashioned for herself, a dazzling magical creature emblazoned on my mind.
This, I think, this is enough to last a lifetime.
I think that’s what writers do. We find a quiet place in the world and capture the magnificence of the world in which we are deeply privileged to live.