Belonging

three swansThree white swans inhabit the waters of the quarry stretching beneath and beyond my new office window. The other morning, the aqua expanse awash in the warm, bright sunlight of a new day, I watched the trio glide across the water just as they did the very first time I saw them.

They swim in a unique formation and always the same. Two of them remain close together while one trails slightly behind. They are graceful and lovely and a welcome distraction from the busy computer screens blinking and beeping at me with email and meeting alerts for the majority of the day.

Normally, I would think very little of the fact that there are only three. But a co-worker pointed out to me that a year ago there were four. Two pairs, consistently swimming together and doing whatever it is swans do. Over the course of time, however, the group had lost a member.

For an animal lover like me, it’s sad enough as it is without the regard for one important detail… Apparently swans mate for life. And this was a tiny bit of avian intel that I did not know. It wasn’t just that the “group” had lost a member, but one of these creatures—the one who trails roughly a swan’s length behind—had lost its partner for life.

For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve found myself obsessed with them. I look for them every day, hoping they will grace me with their silent presence. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that one of them has lost its partner, often causing me to wonder if perhaps he or she is sorrowful or lonely? Or whether or not it’s the fascinating fact that the other pair allows the lone swan to remain a part of the group? But something about this unconventional bird bunch intrigues and inspires me.

Such has been my preoccupation with them that I have tried to figure out the source of my quite-possibly-borderline-unusual curiosity. And I think (after some excessive reflection) I’ve nailed it down. I think it’s because the behavior is so human. Their bond reminds me so much of us with our innate desire to connect with others and to forge relationships that will stand the test of time.

The mating for life thing is cool… Don’t get me wrong. I know there are a lot of critters in nature who do this. But I think what has captivated me most is how consistently they stick together. The three of them… The odd number of them.

I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in knowing that the need to belong stretches far beyond me… far beyond my peers, family, friends and fellow human beings… and farther still beyond the edges of the quarry outside my window… and infinitely beyond any of the natural world that I can touch, feel and see.

Who Me? Territorial? Nah.

Never let it be said that humans aren’t territorial. Otherwise, why would we have legal property lines and build fences? Why would we hang signs that label “our areas” as such? Why would we get irritated if our neighbor decides to park a GINORMOUS camper next to our driveway, obstructing our view of the street and making us feel like we live on a Hollywood set, or we’re in prison or we’ve been relocated to Big Arbs campground!?! Huh?

The following is a little internal narrative I wrote down about 2 years ago when a grumpy old fart just up and started randomly TAKING my parking spot… EVERY. DAMN. DAY. I’ve since left that place of employment for a different place … with better parking.

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My eyes narrowed when I saw him pulling into the spot.

THE parking spot. MY parking spot. I’ve never seen him park there before. Why did he decide to start now? Everyone should know by now that THAT is MY parking spot. I’ve been parking there for months ever since the layoffs started and a “prime” spot became available just outside my office window. My window. My spot.

And I heaved a heavy, aggravated sigh.

Alright. I guess I’ll just have to take the spot next to it today… and hope that this doesn’t become like a regular thing. I mean, I’d hate to have to start cutting my lunch hours short just to safeguard the spot. If I don’t… and HE starts parking there… before you know it, he’ll think it’s HIS spot. And then what will I do? I’ll have to find another spot. This really does annoy me.

So I glared at him the entire time while he squared up his car and shut off the engine and gathered his things and walked into the building.

That will show him. My iron stare. WHO does this guy think he is? I don’t even know this guy. Does he even WORK here full-time? I think maybe he’s an engineer. Oh! Look at me! I’m an engineer! I’m better than you! I make more money than you do! My job requires a lot more brains and skill and responsibility than Marketing does… I can park wherever I want to!

And I slide into the second-rate spot right beside him. Meanwhile… one of the retired guys enters the parking lot, returning from lunch, and he glares at ME!

What is YOUR problem?!? What the #@%* are YOU looking at? Why are you even here? You are retired and supposed to be coming here on a part-time, consultation-only basis. But instead, I think I see more of you NOW than I did BEFORE you retired! What is up with THAT?!? Do you have a problem with me? You don’t even KNOW me. We’ve never even spoken. Stop looking at me. Jerk.

And then it dawns on me… I just parked in HIS spot.

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Listen… when it comes to territory… the only difference between us and the animal kingdom is the fact that we don’t “mark” our territories with bodily fluids. Then again… maybe there are a few of us who do.

If there are… I really wouldn’t want to know.