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Even ducks drown!

Oh my!

Will this clownish, nightmare Covid circus ever end? Or have we just got to get used to the incessant bad news on the merry go round of life in, around and after (or under) the pandemic? In all honesty, I think not … but I think that presently life is one rather long round of loss, with the occasional merry win. And this week, as usual, I was thinking that there is some desperate meaning that I have to find in amongst all of this trauma and turbulence in order to swim into calmer waters. If – please forgive the mixed metaphors – if I keep working hard and shaking it off, a bit like water off a duck’s back, the meaning will come to me. I’ll learn from this test, I’ll shake the water off, I can stay afloat. Well, sure enough, I learned it…even ducks drown!

So…this week has seen me desperately preening those feathers, making sure they’re clean and well oiled, pristine and waterproof so that I could swim through some choppy waters over the coming weeks safely. I’ve got a house move scheduled (no…the sale still hasn’t gone through), a farewell dinner with some old, reliable and honest school friends; I should have been leading a funeral for the father in law of another dear friend and singing lead vocals at the first gig not to be rained off since restrictions were eased.

But…first I had some babysitting duties to see to – for sure, that’s one of those merry wins – until Covid struck, and the whole household, including the baby, are really sick. Except for me, with a double vaccination, and a feathery, downy coat preened to perfection…or not, as it may seem!

Those preening behaviours common to many birds, keeping their feathers clean, waterproof, and well groomed? It’s an essential task, not just to repel water from their feathers, but to enable them to stay afloat in order to feed and live. The oil glands at the base of their tails and under their wings secrete a waxy sheen that ducks use to groom themselves, and by scratching with their bills to pick up oil from those glands, they maintain the feathers’ waterproof properties – it is vital for them not to become waterlogged or, just like a stone, they plummet and drown. Of course, you have seen plenty of ducks swimming across a pond, but did you ever wonder what it is that helps to keep them afloat? Why it is that they don’t just drown?

It’s the social interaction that protects them.

Ducks in a flock fastidiously preen themselves – they’re in it together! But a solitary duck, one without companionship, gives up on itself and does nothing to maintain its feathers. It gives up on basic self-care…at first becoming scruffy and a bit disheveled and then reaching the point that those feathers can no longer do their job; they start to absorb water – and they will no longer float. A healthy, socialised duck rides high in the water, maintaining watertight integrity but a lonely duck plummets.

As you might guess, there’s not much social interaction in a house crammed full with plague! And in one where the water has been allowed to become muddy because of some unresolved differences and perspectives, it is hard not to plummet.

Yes, I’m like a lone duck, dependent on my relationships to keep afloat. It’s easy to turn inward, or away; its easy to neglect myself, and then to become unhealthy, even physically ill. It isn’t easy to escape a Covid household and it’s very easy to reach an unhealthy state of mental absorption. Especially when the water outside is so muddied and sullied.

So…what to do?

Well…I guess it is helpful firstly to remember that ducks swim in the water, but they are not affected by the water and that’s the same way that we are in the world but don’t have to be affected by the world. And then it’s helpful to consider how we should resolve issues as they crop up because we need – it is absolutely essential – to engage in a social community that encourages us to keep grooming.

How else can we sustain social buoyancy?

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