It’s Hard to be New

As promised, here are our two newest duck family members, Terest (L) and Avila (R). They are new in several ways: new to the Earth, new to this home, new to the ducks who already live here. Their covering is new: soft, fluffy, not-very-protective down that is still (mostly) duckling yellow. Almost everything they do is new, at least to them. New home, new pen, new yard, new food, new pond …

Being new is tough.

The big ducks are pretty sure they don’t want the newcomers to stay, even though I don’t think they are entirely sure just what these little yellow critters are. But they understand that the fuzzy little invaders want to hang around, eat their food, play in their water — and generally act like little sibling annoyances.

So Bernie, Macrina and sometimes even Basil (Petra, as ever, is gentle with everything) go after the little ones. Once Bernie and Basil got them cornered and something ruthless clicked in their pea-sized brains. Luckily I was there and stopped the frenzied and brutal pecking almost as soon as it began, but it was a little scary. I actually had to push Bernie away, and he rarely lets a human get close enough to whiff his tail feathers, never mind execute a serious shove. Thankfully, a nine-pound testosterone-poisoned duck is no match for a ——— well, never mind how much I weigh, but I definitely have the edge on Bernie. He knew I meant business and he quickly came to what little sense he ever has. He calmly wandered a few yards away and nibbled politely on the smart weed. “See?” he seemed to say, “I wasn’t doing anything …” Yeah, right.

It will be several weeks before Teresa and Avila are big enough to endure the inevitable tail-feather-removal pecking that will establish Bernie as the Main Man. Then everything will settle back into a routine that includes our little newcomers.

I remember the misery of starting a new job. I hadn’t any idea what I was doing, where to find things, how to remember all those names. I hated feeling new, and my first days as a newbie were intensely and exhaustingly focused. I just couldn’t bear to look foolish, and I hated the feeling of not belonging. Inevitably, there was one co-worker who seemed to go our of her way to make me understand that my place, whatever it turned out to be, would be less than hers.

It’s the same here in community, where (thankfully) we have new woman joining our little family fairly regularly. They are powerful women, coming from strong business and professional backgrounds. Yet in a way it’s back to step one for them, and they struggle to embrace the profound differences between living independently in a secular world and living faithfully in a family of flawed humans, engaged in their own struggle to move into a new monastic vision. They can feel picked on, as more experienced Sisters bring errors in reliigous practice to their attention. Lord knows we’re not perfect, and we’re not always as welcoming as we’d like to think we are.

It’s not exacty a picnic. It can feel like having a rug yanked from under your feet, like having your skin rubbed with sandpaper, like … well, like being new, I guess. So I watch our little ducklings, and I watch our brilliant newcomers in community, and I pray that all of them will weather the storm of adjustments, eventually nestling happily into a nest that no longer feels so darned new.

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