The Black Swan: Life in the Slow Lane

Life in the Slow Lane by Kathryn Taubert

Sometimes kindness, real and metaphorical, occurs in unexpected places, if only we take the time to look for it.

He was beautiful. Seeking his companion as I crossed the bridge, I wondered what this magnificent bird was doing alone on a pond in the middle of Coconut Point mall. Parking the car, I wondered how he’d gotten there.

Swans mate for life, this one apparently having lost his. While sometimes mating again, more often they remain alone.

I found his photo on the ‘net. What’s an Australian Swan doing in Florida anyway? He was clearly out of his element.

He had that pond to himself. I hoped he would be safe from the Major Predator in the area. (And I don’t mean the reptilian kind.)

From time to time I’d drive and spot him drifting quietly alone, stately and stunning with sunlight glinting off his ebony plumage. I hoped perhaps he’d find a new mate. But where in the world would he find another Black Swan around here? Perhaps he’d migrate, assuming his wings hadn’t been clipped.

One day I drove past a nearby pond and saw the Black Swan with two White ones, the larger White clearly distressed at the former’s presence. As peaceful as Swans appear, they can be formidable when riled. Clearly the White Swan was defending his territory and mate standing on the nearby shore. Neck arched, wings flapping, and feathers fluffed in threat, I could almost hear him saying, “Don’t even THINK about it!”

The Black Swan just sat and watched. Anthropomorphizing like crazy, I imagined his loneliness as he drifted quietly, not quite alone anymore, but not welcomed either.

I drove off feeling sad for him, wondering at the outcome, not wanting to think about it too much.

Days passed, perhaps weeks, before I was back. The Black Swan’s pond was empty. I couldn’t help but make the short detour to the other one, and couldn’t believe my eyes.

There they were. The three Swans preening their feathers in the morning sun like living artifacts from a kinder, gentler place and time. The White Swan pair had accepted the solitary Black as a companion, the three of them peacefully cohabitating with the ducks, turtles and fish in the pond.

Some days later I was overjoyed to learn from a groundsman that a mate for the Black had been flown in the day before! I thought how kind of mall management to go to such lengths, and expense, for this pairing. I supposed it’s possible the Swans were imported to help chase off unwelcome intruders. I suppose there’s also a practical behavioral reason for a solitary Black Swan being welcomed by a mated pair as companion.

I’d rather think of these events less cynically. Being different and alone doesn’t have to result in isolation: while two is company, three isn’t always an unwelcome “crowd.” Nor is kindness always eclipsed by enlightened self-interest. Sometimes they even go hand-in-hand.

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