After writing for the Southern Illinoisan for more than a year, my editor recently allowed me to change the name of my column to The Simple Swan, the name of this blog I started writing several years ago. I have always had an affinity for swans as featured in some of my favorite literature, and I have grown to be more and more inspired by them.
My earliest encounter with storybook swans was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling and its powerful message of transformation, acceptance, kindness and love. Who can resist the idea that no matter how awkward and rejected we feel, deep down we are all beautiful swans?
Another favorite novel of mine is E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan. It tells the sweet story of Louis, a trumpeter swan cleverly named for Louis Armstrong, who learns several lessons on his journey first to self-love and eventually to true love with a swan named Serena.
My love for swans was sealed when I was a little girl taking dance lessons. My mother took my sisters and me to a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The story, music, dancers, costumes and scenery transported me to another world, and I was mesmerized. Ever since, a picture book of Swan Lake has had a place on my bookshelf. It was my love for reading magical books such as these that led me to become a literature teacher.
Seeing real swans in nature only increases their fictional dreaminess for me. With their gracefully elongated necks, strong bodies and regal composure, I’m struck by their natural poise and positivity. They might be paddling like crazy just below the surface, but they always appear to be peacefully gliding through life.
When my own children reached the same age as the eighth graders I taught, I had a daily routine of stopping by a park on the way home from school. For fifteen minutes or so, I would sit in my car and watch the swans serenely float on the small lake. In the midst of hectic days blessed by teenagers at work and home, the swans put a smile on my face and reminded me how I wanted to show up in the world as a teacher, parent and human being.
Especially now that I am sixty, swans seem to possess a wise and mature sense of joy. They aren’t showy like peacocks or flighty like chickadees. They rarely flap about like chickens with their heads cut off. Though they are beautiful, it is a deeper quality of simplicity and bliss that I find so admirable and want to capture in my writing and in my life. Swans remind me we live in a truly magical and enchanting world. How can we be anything but happy? §
“It is only with the heart that one can see clearly, for the most essential things are invisible to the eye.”
~ Hans Christian Andersen, in The Ugly Duckling
Note ~ Thank you for reading something cheerful today! Sunday blog posts are also published in the Southern Illinoisan. Wednesday blog posts are a bit more personal and will return in January. Wishing you a holly jolly December!