Imaginary Life

The future.– Everyone will die soon, and no one knows how soon, unless he is the one facing that moment right now. You might be next, for all you know. And yet you allow your life’s worth to be reduced by coercive authority and condescending experts to the refrigerated prolongation we call security and comfort, as though it were enough, “for the time being at least,” merely to preserve yourself unto some indefinite future in which (so you vaguely imagine) you will begin or resume your “real” life. And if that time never comes, as it surely never will, then…?

I must note, for any reader who is tempted to interpret the above as encouragement to “get out there,” “go for it,” or “follow your dream,” that my intended meaning is almost exactly the opposite.

My kind.– A few days ago, a rare bird for these parts, a Muscovy duck, showed up along a narrow manmade river — a conduit for mountain runoff — that runs perpendicular to the street I live on. I have never seen one of these birds except at one of two large local ponds. The one I knew best, from the pond at my campus, was always alone. The other regular residents of the pond either ignored him or were hostile toward him. He nevertheless seemed, on the whole, to be quite at ease with his situation, and I gradually came almost to identify with him, being a loner myself. One day, sadly, he disappeared.

I subsequently noticed two of this species at the larger pond in the center of town. Apparently, however, even that much social life was too much for one of them, at least as a constant condition, and so he has taken off for the much less scenic but more isolated location he has adopted as his home this week, stationed along the concrete edge of a barely trickling stream.

An odd duck, as they say. But I feel a greater affinity for this creature than ever before, as I stop each day on my walk home to observe his placidity in the midst of these strange and ill-suited surroundings. I experience a mixture of concerned sadness and conspiratorial contentment as I watch him there, standing out in the open, the cold December wind flipping his feathers this way and that as he remains unmoving and seemingly oblivious to the pedestrians and cars passing along either side of the river — somehow dangerously exposed and blissfully invisible at the same time. All things considered, perhaps not such a disagreeable condition, given the realistic alternatives. 

I cannot help reflecting that almost everyone I know and like on this Earth — and, presumably, everyone who knows and likes me — shares something of this temperament.

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