Ducks Just Are
(story by Mir, from WouldaCouldaShoulda.com)
Many years ago—back when I was still a teenager—my parents took me to a psychiatrist who was supposed to be "very good" at treating teens with depression. They were sure he could fix me when no one else (so far) had been able to. Me, I was skeptical. He was a small Korean man with a thick accent and all the warmth of a paring knife.
"Why you do these things?" he would ask me, puzzled, from behind his desk. "Why you make your parents so worry?"
I thought he was a complete whack-job. I did "these things" that made my parents "so worry" because I was depressed. Obviously. If I knew why for real, I could probably stop doing them, and also stop being so sad and angry all the time, and then I wouldn't need him. He was no help, anyway. I endured the visits, but found them excruciating. He would ask me a bunch of stupid questions, stare at me like I had three heads, adjust my meds, and then tell me to come back happier, next time. Real helpful.
He had a carved wooden mallard sitting on his desk. It seemed out of place; it was the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a hunting lodge, not on the desk of an earnest doctor who seemed unable to master either the English language or his chosen speciality. When my appointments were particularly vexing (most of the time), I would slump in my chair and stare at his stupid duck.
"You know why I have duck?" he asked me, one day, as I stared at it and willed the appointment to end. I looked up; he'd seen me staring at it. I silently promised myself that if he said it's because he loves hunting that I would leave the office and never return. But outwardly, all I did was shake my head. "I have duck because DUCKS NO DEPRESSED." I blinked, trying to process if this was another case of the language barrier causing a problem, or if he'd really just told me that he had a duck because ducks aren't depressed. And how did he know, anyway? Maybe some ducks WERE depressed!
"Ducks no depressed because they not think about how they FEEL," he continued. "You see ducks on lake, they are just swimming! And flying! And hunting for food, and building nests, and NO DEPRESSED. Ducks no think, ducks just ARE." He paused, leaned forward with a big grin, clearly eager to see the result of having shared this brilliant insight with me. A response was required. I shifted in my seat.
"Ducks aren't capable of deeper thought or any kind of self-reflection, though," I countered, somewhat feebly. "They're DUCKS."
"Right!" he said, triumphant. "And DUCKS NO DEPRESSED."
I tried to use this incident as proof to my parents that the good doctor was, in fact, insane. They seemed amused but didn't agree that it was evidence that I should be allowed to stop seeing him. Our therapeutic relationship continued until I got a grip on my life—I wouldn't necessarily say it was thanks to him, but it was a useful coincidence nonetheless—and then I was allowed to stop seeing him.
I had a friend back then who'd also spent some time with the same doctor, and gotten the same duck analogy speech. For years thereafter, when one of us was struggling, the other one only had to intone "DUCKS NO THINK, DUCKS JUST ARE," to crack us both up completely.
It is perhaps unfortunate that I am not the sort of person who is content to live an unexamined life. I feel things too deeply, and I look for meaning where there often isn't any. I am no longer the depressed and angry teen I once was, but I am still someone who has a lot of trouble with the whole concept of "just being." At the same time, I'm keenly aware that back before modern conveniences, people generally didn't have time to sit around and feel their tender, delicate feelings; life was about survival and you just… did it. You didn't wonder if you were doing a good job raising your kids, you just tried to keep them alive. Etc.
Every summer my ability to feel a little more comfortable in my own skin surprises me all over again. I don't run away from civilization or win the lottery, I just… start my vegetable garden again. I spend a portion of each day outside, tending to my plants, so that we have food to eat. Do we live off the garden? No, of course not; I still go to the grocery store and the farmer's market, and the bulk of our diet comes from there, not my garden. But there is tremendous satisfaction in the food I manage to nurture in our own dirt, and countless hours of emotion-free distraction in raising it up.
The bean and melon vines must be encouraged to twist around the trellis. The tomatoes are prone to critters, and outgrow their cages and need to be staked and supported before they fall over. This year one of my pepper plants died for reasons I never did suss out, and it was perplexing, but it was also… just the way it goes. It was okay. I keep tending the plants I have, and eventually, they produce food, and we eat it, and it's good.
Every now and then while I'm out in the garden, I think "DUCKS NO DEPRESSED" and I giggle to myself. Ducks aren't depressed, and they're not sitting around worrying that they're fat or unattractive or somehow wasting their lives or hunting the wrong fish or whatever. They just are. And somehow, when I'm gardening, I just am, too. I am just an animal in the pursuit of sustenance (even though I could just get it at the store), and I am neither good nor bad, happy nor sad. I just am.
Do you have somewhere or something that transcends your everyday concerns and allows you to just be? Or are you naturally more like a duck all the time, anyway?
(waddle on over and read more Mir here)