What can penguins teach us?

Prior to my recent trip to Antarctica, I confess that I had not given penguins much consideration.  Not beautiful. Smell bad. Can’t fly.  

Really, what was the point of a penguin?

Now, however, I have a new appreciation for the penguin.

Chinstraps Heading to the Ocean
Photo Courtesy of Evangeline Warren

As our ship lay at anchor off Deception Island in the Antarctic Ocean, we looked at its black volcanic rock-covered beach where we planned to make our landing.  From a distance one could see tens of thousands of chinstrap penguins marching in and out of sea. White breasts headed in. Black backs headed out.

Once on the shore, the sound of the birds cheerfully chatting and squawking at each other soon distracted from the smell.  We made our way up the beach, to the nesting area, where we observed what could best be described as the shift-change between parents.

While one parent tends the nest and their chicks, the other parent makes its way down to the sea to fish for their offspring.  During the fishing expedition, taking the penguin as far away as 50 miles, the penguin gorges on food, returning to relieve its mate and feed its offspring.

After a brief check in and handoff, the other parent heads down to the sea for its turn to fish.  The remaining parent takes its place on the nest and supervises the chicks. Male and female penguins share this responsibility equally.

Watching well over 50,000 penguins do this over several hours, I began to reconsider the penguin.  Several things impressed me then and remain with me still.

Penguins are loyal.  Penguins commit to a mate and then their offspring.  Moreover, a penguin can find and recognize both its mate and its chicks amongst tens of thousands of others, even after wandering miles away on land and sea.

Loyalty
Photo Courtesy of Evangeline Warren

Penguins are humble. Not known for its beauty, vanity is not a vice in which a penguin can afford to indulge.  It sits in its own guano patiently waiting and tending its offspring while its mate fishes.  

Penguins are determined.  As a penguin makes its way single-mindedly back and forth between the ocean and its nest, it encounters many obstacles.  Rocks, icebergs, predators, rain, sleet, snow, other penguins. And yet, the penguin presses on in its mission to take care of its family.

Penguins are brave.  The penguin world is full of bigger and meaner beasts than they are.  Leopard seals stalk the shoreline as penguins dive into the sea to fish.  Skua birds cruise the skies looking for a moment to swoop in and snatch a chick.  Yet the penguin goes about its business with courage.

Loyalty. Humility. Determination. Bravery. 

These are not choices a penguin makes.  Evolution has made them necessary characteristics for their survival. 

However, they are choices we can make.  

What would our world be like if we all chose to be unfailingly loyal, humble, determined, and brave?

Light in a Very Dark Place

black-and-white-blur-book-164821We are now approaching the darkest days of the year.  Our Advent wreaths and Hanukkah menorahs have brought light into our lives.  It is an opportune time to reflect on how one can bring light to dark places.

Several months ago friends from out of town invited me to a benefit organized to support Musicambia.  I accepted because I wanted to spend time with these friends and this was going to be a good way to do it.

After a nice dinner getting caught up on family news, we made our way to the event.  We settled into our seats and I began to focus on Musicambia and its mission.

First up was Dexter.

Continue reading “Light in a Very Dark Place”

The beating heart of a home

Big Ben Inner Clock Face
By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35619684

When my in-laws were downsizing out of their home in Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada and moving to an apartment, they very generously gave us a grandfather clock that stood in their front hall.  The clock was made in Halifax in Yorkshire, England, probably in the late 18th century and stands well over 9 feet tall.  

Fortunately our apartment in New York has high enough ceilings to accommodate it, and so my wife and I moved it into our living room.  We never got around to having the clock works cleaned and repaired, so the clock has stood mute for well over ten years. Continue reading “The beating heart of a home”

Interstellar Space

Living as I do in an urban environment, it is not usually possible to see many, if any, stars on a regular basis.  Fortunately, my work takes me off the beaten path to places where there is little ambient light to obscure the night sky.  

Most recently, I found myself in the desert of New Mexico at the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert on a silent retreat.  There, after the sun had set, the heavens blazed.

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Continue reading “Interstellar Space”

How Democracies Die

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How Democracies Die
By Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Let me confess up front:  I have not yet read this book.  I’m screwing up my courage to do so.  However, I’ve heard just enough about it to be extremely concerned and intrigued.

The authors argue that in recent times authoritarian leaders have actually come to power through democratic processes.  The good old days of military coups seem to be a relic of the past.

Once in power, these leaders all share four common traits: Continue reading “How Democracies Die”

Juneteenth

Today, June 19th, marks the anniversary of the day Texas abolished slavery in 1865.  Several states, including Texas, recognize it. The Federal Government has also recognized “Juneteenth Independence Day,” although it is not an official Federal holiday.

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Perhaps of more consequence, Apple added Juneteenth to the list of official U.S. holidays this year.  I’m embarrassed to admit that while I had a vague sense of Juneteenth, it wasn’t until it popped up on my phone that I started to pay attention.

So I dug deeper… Continue reading “Juneteenth”

Marriage

IMG-0835As Martin Luther wrote, “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.”  

I couldn’t agree more.  And not just because my wife and I are about to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary, I promise.

The fact of the matter is that I’m a big fan of marriage.   Continue reading “Marriage”

One billboard outside Sandusky, Ohio

Each year my wife and I attend St. Bartholomew’s three-hour Good Friday service.  Each year I wonder how on earth I will sit through three hours of music, extended periods of silent prayer, readings on the seven last words of Christ, and a homily on each.  Each year the time disappears. Continue reading “One billboard outside Sandusky, Ohio”

Twenty characteristics that make a genius

Leonardo_da_Vinci_LUCAN_Hohenstatt_20_Uffizi_copyIn keeping with my desire to observe Advent by seeking out beauty (see my November 28th post) and my fascination with Salvator Mundi (see my November 14th post), I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s masterful and insightful biography of Leonardo Da Vinci.  

Isaacson concludes his book by identifying twenty characteristics that make a genius.  Isaacson has given this list some thought, having written biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and now Leonardo.

So what does it take? Continue reading “Twenty characteristics that make a genius”