Recently, I was at a lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, enjoying a week of relaxation with family. One night, as I was standing on the dock, a flock of ducks swam by. I didn’t think about the fact that they might be looking for food (nor, as advised, did I intend to feed them anyway) until out of the blue one popped his head up and attempted to bite my toe. I was shocked by the sensation of this critter’s beak on my foot and immediately recoiled. What in the heck was he thinking?
I like ducks (in fact, as a child I had a pet duckling by the name of Peep Peep…that is, until my father spirited him away to a lake in the town park where, Dad claimed, “Peep Peep would be happier”). I enjoy watching ducks swim by, quacking away. Their feathers are lovely, and even if they are looking for food, they seem quite friendly for the most part (I’ve heard that swans, on the other hand, can be downright nasty). But there was something about this duck’s attempted toe nibbling that disturbed me. It just didn’t seem like a friendly-duck thing to do.
Later, thinking about the experience, I decided that it wasn’t the duck attack per se that was so troubling: rather, it was the fact that I was totally unprepared and unsuspecting. I simply hadn’t anticipated that a duck would try to bite me (mosquitoes, I was ready for!).
The more I thought about this, the more deeply I realized that the duck nibbling reminded me of other experiences in my past when people have metaphorically bitten my toe (or my head) off for no apparent reason. And I realized that rather than being physically painful, there is nothing more ouch-causing than the experience of being yelled at, blamed, criticized, or disparaged for no good reason. There are situations in life when, of course, we expect to be snapped at (overdrawing the checking account, for instance). But there are also occasions when a friend, partner, child, parent, teacher, acquaintance or possibly even a bank teller, waiter or sales person says something so nasty and so unexpected that it simply takes your breath away, and you are speechless, hurt, and completely deflated, not by the words themselves but by the sheer inappropriateness of the surprise attack.
I guess the best thing to do in these situations (whether duck, spouse, or friend) is simply to let it go. Remove your foot, garner up your inner strength, and move on. Most likely that duck didn’t mean anything by it, just as most likely the bank teller or your kid was simply having a bad day. No need to take it to heart (or toe).
Still, I will feel a bit wary of ducks from now on. And I certainly will never go near one when I’ve just had a pedicure.