Last week I went birding on Antelope Island. Besides the dark clouds that made lighting terrible, it was a good day with a variety of birds spotted, and even a coyote I got some good pictures of. As I was driving on the causeway off of the island, I spotted hundreds of American avocets. I stopped to take pictures when I noticed an avocet that only had one leg. I observed for awhile as this single bird with one leg hopped about, using its wings as help, to get from one place to another. It seemed to stand/balance on it’s one leg just fine and was integrated with the other avocets. Integrated, a part of, yet still different and dealing with a disability.
I thought about how lately I’ve felt like a one-legged avocet, still living life among everyone else, doing my best to get along—and surviving, yes—yet also struggling as I do things differently. On the outside it might seem like I’m like everyone else, but I often feel so alone, dealing with things that no one around me has gone through. I have no one to turn to for help or guidance, no one who understands. I’m among the other avocets, but with one leg, hopping from place to place, standing, balancing, and most of the time I really am okay, but sometimes the boulder on top of me weighs me down, threatening to crush me. I don’t let it. God doesn’t let it. He helps me. He’s there. So is the boulder.
The thing is, I bet a lot of people around me who look like normal, two-legged avocets—or normal two-legged people—feel like the one-legged avocet, too. They are among everyone else, seemingly getting along fine, when really they are going through something too. They may have a boulder on top of them. They may be living in the rubble of bombs that keep going off. They may feel alone. They may not have anyone else around who understands. Yet, somehow, remembering this, helps me to feel less alone. It reminds me that there can be connection even when we aren’t going through the same things. Empathy isn’t about understanding or knowing what it’s like. It’s simply about loving and being there for someone no matter what. Maybe—just maybe—we are all like the one-legged avocet. And more alike than we think.