September 11, 2022
A few weeks ago, you might recall, I told a story about nene school. Do you remember that at all? In the story, the class got to talking while the teacher was working with one of the students. They didn’t listen when their teacher asked them to be quiet, until she got so frustrated that she flew off in a huff.
Or, well, a minute and a huff.
This story is about that same class and that same teacher, but now we’ll spend time with the young nene who was getting special instruction in flying.
The reason he needed extra help was, well, the fact that he would try anything. I mean anything. One of his early attempts at flying was to see what happened when he flapped his feet. Nene have webbed feet, to be sure, but they have less webbing between their toes than a duck does or than a Canada goose (which they resemble) does. It wouldn’t matter if they had the same amount of webbing on their feet. Ducks and geese don’t fly with their feet.
But he thought he’d give it a try. If you’re wondering how well it worked, it didn’t work well at all.
He tried flying with one wing pointing up at the sky and one wing pointing down at the ground. That was also, I must say, a crashing failure. He tried taking off by doing back flips. I’m afraid his classmates found that pretty funny, and I dare say you and I would have laughed, too. A lot of his experiments resulted in scattered feathers and, let’s be honest, strained muscles and a fascinating set of bruises (hidden beneath the feathers). Most of them ended right there on the ground where they began.
His teacher tried desperately to limit some of his ideas to things that wouldn’t lead to total disaster. Sometimes she succeeded. Sometimes she’d turn around for a moment, hear a honk and a clatter, and look around to find dust rising over another crash landing.
She had to admit, though, that he didn’t repeat his failures. If something didn’t work, he might try a variation or two on it, but he didn’t do the same thing twice. That sideways idea, for example. He tried it with the left wing up, and he tried it with the right wing up, but he didn’t try it with the left wing up a second time.
The teacher also noticed that every once in a while he found something new that she’d never seen before. One day, for example, he was flying at a good height, flipped over on his back, tucked his wings in, and pointed his beak at the ground. She watched in horror as he headed toward earth, but he pushed those wings back out again, caught the air, and leveled out going back the way he’d come. It was amazing.
“Why,” she asked him, “do you try everything when you know so many of the things you try can’t possibly work? Why don’t you follow the flying lessons nene have been using for years?”
He looked uncomfortable, as well he might (he’d just had another crash landing and the aches were settling in). “I could do that, I know,” he said, “and it would work just fine. But…”
“But what?” the teacher asked.
“But then I wouldn’t have tried everything, and I wouldn’t know about the things that nobody has tried, or nobody has passed down the word. I wouldn’t know what I can really do and what I really can’t.”
Trying everything is a hard way to do things, for sure. The good news is that trying things is a way to learn and to grow. Trying things is all about making spaces to find out who you are and what you can be.
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story above was told live from memory of this text.
Photo by Eric Anderson.