“To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
On vacation in New Hampshire last week, my friend and I were driving along a 12-lane highway when she suddenly braked.
We slowed down enough for me to see why cars were screeching around us. From 70 mph everyone behind us lurched to stop.
A mother duck with her eight ducklings was crossing the interstate. She had led her brood across three lanes, another three lay before her.
I watched as they entered our lane, 1/3 of the way through, the mother bowing her head at the chrome of our bumper, reaching her neck out to feel her way for her next step. I could see the feathers of her ducklings blown haywire in the wind of the speeding traffic. The were straight in a line, making them more, not less, vulnerable.
They were walking as they were designed to walk, single-file, behind their mother, trusting her judgment, walking to their death.
“I can’t stop,” my friend said as she tried to swerve without hitting the cars screaming past. I watched in horror as we tried to avoid them and as we passed, revving up our speed to catch up with the stream of traffic, we left them unharmed.
But there were thousands of tires panting for a chance, behind us.
Why was this mother taking her ducklings across an inter-state? What had this land looked like before the interstate was built? Was she hoping to guide them to a long filled-in and cemented pond? How much longer would they live?
What if the mother was run over and the ducklings were left?
What if all her ducklings were hit? What if the mother was hit? How would her ducklings walk without her? In the middle of the interstate they would be bewildered.
And what if some made it to the median. What then?
My mind rushed to the simple answer from the book I used to love as a child, Make Way for Ducklings. I wanted to tell my friend to turn the car around, to go back and stop the six lanes of traffic, to make a way for them. To stop, to save, to protect.
But even as I thought of a plan, I knew it was too late.
My friend noticed my sudden stillness, my eyes staring ahead, not seeing or hearing.
“You alright?” she asked.
I shook my head. It wasn’t until I was at her house, when my husband and I reunited in the living room that I began to weep.
I wept for the helplessness I felt in the face of the waste. Life squelched for the sake of my speedy arrival to my destination.
My mom told me they have nets in Switzerland to keep the frogs from migrating across the highway. They’ve now gone so far, she said, to close the entire highway during frog migration season. You can only change our natures so much.
This mother duck could not change her instinct that water or food or some good thing lay beyond all those roaring vehicles.
The Jews were commanded by God to close down their land every seventh year, to let the fields lie fallow. This command is where we get the concept and word for Sabbatical. I’d imagine everyone moved slower that year, probably ate less too. I imagine road kills lessened during sabbatical while observing Jews re-evaluated how they did things.
But I don’t have any re-evaluations right now. I only have tears.
I wept for the way parents lead their children senselessly and determinedly into danger. For the hundreds of grown children I get to meet through Soulation who are living in the median of a highway because their parent led them there and died along the way.
I wept because the best of intentions doesn’t keep us safe, even from sin, even from death. We lead even those we love into harm and pain.
I wept for the ducklings’ trust in their mother as if she knew how to lead them to safety. I wept for the vulnerability of love that trusts even when everyone else sees pain and horror, for the impossibility of warning others of the dangers all around them, for the communication divide: between humans and animals, boomers and Millennials, scientists and artists, politicians and pastors, men and women.
I wept that we live in a world where trust must expose us to the frailties of the one we follow. I wept that “the only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the danger and perturbations of love is hell” (C.S. Lewis). I wept that becoming more fully human means that I will have most of my shine rubbed off in the process. I wept that I might lose my life trying to find safety.
I wept that there is only this present world to live in where the faltering steps of the weak and voiceless are repeatedly silenced by the thunder of the strong and powerful. I wept for the marginalized and the shamed, the corseted and the numb.
I weep because the path to becoming so full of love means I will watch more ducklings led to the slaughter.
I weep because the guy I’ve chosen to follow for this life and the next was like a duckling, silent and still trusting of his father in the face of his death.
I weep that our story has so much pain at its center.