Last week my sister and I drove home to Michigan. A lot happened on the trip, mostly good stuff, and even the bad stuff ended well.
There was one sad thing that broke my heart.
We were zipping along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way), the major highway that connects Niagara Falls (where we entered Canada) and Hamilton. It’s always frenetic, full of traffic, with one of those solid concrete barricades down the median. We were going 75 mph, five miles above the posted speed limit, and people passed us like we were standing still.
We were talking and laughing, and all of a sudden, we saw a mother duck and two baby ducks at the median, right next to the fast lane. (AKA “even faster lane”…)
It was heartbreaking. They were in a panic. There was absolutely no way we could stop. Even if we could, there was absolutely no way we could have rescued them without endangering ourselves, other travelers, even the ducks.
Our hearts sank as we flew past them.
We could have called “someone” about them. But who? I have no idea who to call in Canada about highway-stranded ducks. And I’m sure there are limited resources to deal with such things.
I’ve been thinking of them ever since, imagining their terror, and empathizing with their helplessness. I know I won’t forget that image of them easily. Why are there solid medians in expressways? Why aren’t there ways to prevent so many animals from being run over on highways?
From what I’ve read about animal brains, they were, indeed frantic and confused. But one of two things definitely happened.
They were probably killed within minutes of us seeing them.
Or they somehow made it back across the highway.
Either way, their agony is over.
Animals, it’s said, don’t dwell on the drama. If they made it safely across, then they immediately focused on the next task in front of them–getting to water, finding food, finding a place to rest for the night.
They didn’t carry that agony and that terror with them any longer than was necessary for their survival.
People, however, tend to fret, to “ruminate” over things that upset us, sometimes endlessly. I know I do! I go over and over the event. I hold my tongue for fear of saying something awful, then regret not speaking up. I make up stories about the people who hurt me, sometimes demonizing their intentions to justify my own indignation and anger.
I’m tired of it.
I know good things can come out of sad experiences. I know this incident helped me connect strongly to an article in our town newspaper, of a local project–high school kids taking record of how many animals are killed on local highways, and thinking up ways to cut down on the daily slaughter. And I know that animals die every day in the wild, if not from a racing car, then from predators and other natural causes.
I’m just saying that I’ve fretted far longer from that image in my heart than the ducks did.
This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to have a compassionate heart.
But I also realize that I should either do something about it or put it in perspective and let it go. Endless remorse serves no one, and nothing.
And so today, I’m telling you–and myself–a different story:
Even an “ordinary” duck and her babies crossing the road have a story to tell.
And I can learn from it.