The Writers' Circle: Lessons from a swan


By April A. Holthaus

Special to The PREVIEW

Driving 400 miles left Kate exhausted. Up ahead, a green glow in the mist promised — rooms $70 a night. She checked in, hurried to her room and sank into welcoming king-size softness. Sleep came slowly as her thoughts focused on Matt. Moving so far from their home was a scary step, but she was sure Matt would encourage her to move on with her life.

A loaded buffet area greeted her with the aroma of a much-needed cup of coffee. The parking lot view from the breakfast area held no particular interest until she saw the edge of a lake. She carried her second cup out to investigate.

The air washed clean by last night’s rain sharpened an expansive view of high mountains in the distance. Kate inhaled sharply; the lake was covered with summer waterfowl nest building and feeding — tails up. One in particular, a white trumpeter swan, caught her attention. Kate watched it glide across the lake’s dark surface and suddenly realized it was alone. I thought swans stayed in pairs bonded for life. She admonished herself again, before turning to go inside. Since losing Matt, I tend to focus on seeing other’s singleness everywhere.

Curious, Kate asked the desk clerk about the swan. The clerk grimaced and shared the town’s tragedy. “The swans have been part of the scenery around here for years; we townies claim them as our own. People who drive by begin watching for them in the spring. So far, that’s the only one to arrive this year. For as long as I can remember, they’ve nested and had their babies on that small island near the west shore. Sorry to say, last year two adults crossed the highway and got killed. I think foxes got their other babies. Just this one remained. Caused the whole town to grieve.” She paused, “Still hurts when we see her out there all alone.”

On her way to a scheduled job interview, Kate caught another glimpse of the swan perched on the small island, alone, but beautiful. Why would it come back here with no mate? Instinct? Watching her reminds me I’m swimming alone, too. How am I going to move forward? When will my grieving end?

Kate stopped by the lake that week to enjoy the lake and mountain view. As she noticed busy mallards and geese, the swan circled the edge of the lake feeding in the bulrushes on the far bank. Gracefully, she spread her majestic wings and approached the ducks and geese as if to visit. Instead, she turned away and glided toward the tiny island. Her eyes met Kate’s as she climbed to the nest and resolutely tucked a long slender neck under her folded wing. This motion touched Kate’s heart as it radiated a simplicity of care for herself and made Kate reflect even deeper on her own singleness. Is this lovely creature teaching me how to be alone and not be lonely?

Eventually a new job, apartment and friends in town gave Kate a sense of belonging. Group hikes, coffee breaks and a local church provided distractions from daytime memories and buried loneliness. But the long nights …

Kate drifted off, her subconscious wrestling with thoughts of lingering grief. She imagined herself a single swan as visions of its behavior churned in her dreams. Am I waiting for my mate? Am I valuable only gliding around unable to produce little ones? Should I try to look unruffled and move on?

Kate’s heart hurt as she lay curled around her pillow in the morning half-light. She hesitated to move and pulled the covers over her head. How will I make sense of these visions in the coming days? Deep down she understood her life must move on in spite of these disappointments, fears and lost dreams.

Could God be using this beautiful creature to show me the way to a new normal, without Matt or children? Kate determined to take shaky new steps of hope and faith. As she did, she envisioned God using other circumstances to lead her in the days to come. She believed He would show His love and steady her with His power for a fruitful life.

It had been a perfect summer. Now, nearby aspens were flecked with gold and bulrushes at the water’s edge were tipped with autumn brown. Kate rested on the lakeside bench immersed in the beauty of a perfect fall day. The swan moved toward the end of the lake, spread her powerful wings and flew off for a warm winter climate. Kate felt at peace, grateful God led her to this place and planted life lessons in her heart from this beautiful creature.

She remembered her pastor saying, as he handed her Matt’s folded American flag, “Be brave, Kate, be brave now.” Kate knew she would, her future woven into this mountain town around people she’d learned to care for, especially a certain handsome gentleman. And there was a chance the swan would be back next spring.

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