Child, listen to me, and I will tell you the story of the ostrich and how she became the way she is.
Once there was an ostrich who realized she was different. She didn't like the rough clumsy ostriches, but preferred the small, gentle, egg-laying ostriches like herself. But she wanted to lay her own eggs, and she knew she needed one of the bigger ostriches to do that. She befriended a non-egg-laying ostrich, selecting one who was a bit less rough and clumsy; more gentle like her. She stowed her secret desires in her heart and vowed she would never pursue them. And that is how the ostrich lost the ability to fly.
"Why is it important not to lie?" my son asked me, after I praised him for telling me the truth about why he'd noisily knocked a sippy cup into the sink, and he's admitted he'd done it on purpose.
I reflected on recent events in my life and told him, "Because if you don't tell the truth, people won't know when you need help."
My mind swirled with the accumulated clutter of my mother's passing. The filthy floors, the cats skulking. Guilt, an ammonia stench that stays in my nostrils. If only we had known.
The ostrich laid three eggs, three little ostriches to lavish with love. She imbued them with her gentleness; she taught them to see the world's beauty. "Art is everywhere," she told them. Their love gave her the courage to be herself. She told her gentle spouse that she would always love him, as a friend. Her wings began to sprout again. And that is how the ostrich began to believe that perhaps she could fly again.
"Dr. Who" gives me solace. Taking trips around the universe in a blue box, visiting other planets. Through so many incarnations, the Doctor tries to be his best self; tries to save everyone; kicks himself when he cannot. I see myself in him.
Having devoured the modern reboots -- Christopher Eccleston through Peter Capaldi -- I am dipping into the classic series. This week, I watched the six-part series, "The Genesis of the Daleks," where the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, goes back in time to prevent his mortal enemies, the Daleks, from being created.
Before my introduction to the Doctor a few years ago -- watching Doctor 11, Matt Smith -- I knew little about the series except for the Daleks. Perpetually bent on destruction, they invade worlds, rolling in armored mobile units, chanting, "Exterminate! Exterminate!" Their robotic voices waver with hysterical anger.
I had always assumed that the Daleks originated from deep hatred, but the story goes deeper. As "The Genesis of the Daleks" relates, their creator, Davros, developed them partly because of fear. Living on a war-torn world, deformed from chemical warfare, he believed his entire race would soon die out. And so, to preserve his race -- and his legacy -- he fashioned these mutant abominations, stripping them of compassion. They would be armored, and have no emotions, and thus be incapable of being hurt.
The ostrich stretched her short wings and took buoyant bounces into a world she never realized existed: egg-laying ostriches who loved egg-layers, and the rough and tumble types who loved each other. They accepted her. She even revealed her true self to her ostrich children, grown nearly to adults, and they accepted her, too. Even the children's father told her that, really, he had always known.
After a couple brief relationships, which soured like eggs broken open, she met -- and loved -- an ostrich just like her. They were so much alike, it was almost as if they'd been grown in the same egg. But this ostrich's wings were still stunted, from fear of what the rest of ostrich-kind would say about them. "We will lose our jobs! They will hurt us!" she claimed. And the ostrich wanted only to protect her, so she matched her love's slower pace, hoping one day they could fly together.
Her love taught her a new trick: if you hide your head, you cannot see those who might be glaring at you. And that is how the ostrich learned to bury her head in the sand.
The Fourth Doctor believed in the essential goodness of people. He tried to work change naturally, by convincing scientists and military men alike of the dangers of unleashing a mutant, hate-filled race on the world. Sensible men and women heard him, and they gathered forces to stand up to Davros.
As a political meeting was being held, the Doctor and his companions visited the lab where the new race grew. Rigging up an ingenious invention, the Doctor prepared to destroy the Daleks entirely. Standing in the hallway, holding two wires apart, he hesitated to take the action that would destroy forever his long-time enemy. His companion urged him to continue:
Sarah Jane Smith: We're talking about the Daleks, the most evil creatures ever invented; you must destroy them! You must complete your mission for the Time Lords!
Doctor Who: Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other and that's it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word Dalek.
Sarah Jane Smith: Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn't hesitate.
Doctor Who: But if I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent lifeform, then I become like them. I'd be no better than the Daleks.
The ostrich and her love shared their lives together, living in the small space the ostrich had once shared with her children's father. The ostrich stopped spending time with her friends, the other like-minded ostriches, because her love worried about being seen with them.
Their children having grown into adults, the two ostriches fed and cared for a bevy of pets. Whatever woodland creature wandered near their nest, they fed. Soon, the nest was overwhelmed with fur and stink. The ostrich could not breathe. And that is how the ostrich grew a long neck.
The email makes me smile before I cry. Words born out of pain, accusing me and my siblings of bad intentions, of heartlessness at another's grief. No mention of the hours spent trying to help sort things out, to rehouse the many needy cats. No mention of the years of support and thoughtfulness. No acknowledgment of my own grief, these few months after my mom's sudden passing. Just angry words and an announcement of a sudden departure to a new life, thousands of miles away.
I smile because the level of misunderstanding strikes me as comical. Hysterical. I cry because of so many memories that will now be forever tainted: family gatherings, weddings, holidays. All those photos I've been tagging on my computer, the faces all identified, frozen in a smiling timeline that now feels like a lie. The work that has only begun of archiving my mother's artwork, sorting through her own photos, and the family history they represent.
The accusations make me want to respond in kind, to speak aloud the many unspoken words I am dying to say. "You -- you -- you..." every phrase ending in a new charge, a new form of righteous indignation.
This cannot be my legacy, I resolve. Instead, I write a level-headed response, apologizing for the times I may have unknowingly caused pain, sending wishes of healing.
The ostrich died suddenly, and both her love and her family mourned her. The ostrich passed into the afterlife, glowing with a deep sense of her true self. The wind carried her upwards. And that is how the ostrich learned to fly again.
In the closing scene of "The Genesis of the Daleks," the Fourth Doctor flies back through space and time with his companions, having failed to stop the Daleks completely. Instead, they have been locked into a bunker, imprisoned for at least a thousand years.
Referring back to his earlier conversation with his companions, where the Doctor mentioned the cultures that would later become allies in order to fight the Daleks, he reassures his companion.
Sarah Jane Smith: You don't seem too disappointed. We've failed. Haven't we?
Doctor Who: Failed? No, not really. You see, I know that although the Daleks will create havoc and destruction for millions of years, I know also that out of their evil must come something good.
Like the Doctor, I wing off into the universe, the rest of my life floating before me like stars. Out of the darkness, from the pain, there are lessons to be learned. There is beauty all around us, my child.