A short story I wrote years ago that reflected my not fitting in:
Adventures of the Feather in an Uncertain World
By: Catherine (aka, Hawkruh)
I wrote this the last time I went to a family reunion. I felt loved by everyone, but didn’t feel like I fit in any more. I was on the outside looking in.
INTRO: Have you ever seen a bird with a feather out of place? Jutting out at an angle away from the smooth coat formed by the rest of its feathers, the single feather appears in need of plucking. Trying to smooth it back into the others is futile. It may blend in for a short while before the tension in its attachment becomes too strong and its direction changes, out of place again. For the sake of writing a story, pretend that I am that feather, and the coat of feathers is my family.
For years and years, the feather tried to twist its shaft so that it would blend in with the other feathers. With each attempt, the other feathers would look at it and wonder at its gyrations. I was actually quite comical to them to watch the various ways the feather would try to get it to fit in. But it puzzled them as well. You see, the feather didn’t understand why it was so different and felt out of place, confused, and angry because of it. It wasn’t trying to be a distraction from the beauty of the bird. Yet, it felt it was and became ashamed that it hadn’t been able to find a way to fit in. Other than the feather, it was a beautiful bird with luxurious plumage of various colors and lengths. The other feathers all found their place, whether long and slender, short and broad, of vibrant hues or a subdued gray. The bird was full of love, proud of itself and all that it had seen and done. As the single feather twisted itself, trying to change, it became more of an irritation to the bird. Where the feather’s attempts had been amusing for a time, the bird was now tired of it and wanted the feather to stop distracting the bird as it went about its business.
With a sad sigh and a heavy heart, the feather stopped trying to fit in. It feared that if it continued, the bird would pluck it out in exasperation and toss it to the wind. If that were to happen, the feather would float alone, at the mercy of the wind, time, and gravity with an unknown fate.
So, the feather tried to stop fitting in. But it was hard, very hard. And sometimes the feather found itself twisted, again trying to change. Occasionally, when twisting and turning, the bird would peck at the feather and threaten to pluck it out. The feather would quickly stop and be very still, afraid of where it would end up if that were to happen. While still, the feather would look at the other feathers and see how well they complimented each other. They blended together and covered the bird with shimmering color, creating protection for the bird through their unity. The feather longed to have a purpose as important as theirs.
Time went by. Some days, the feather was content, even happy. The sun shone, and the bird flew on gentle breezes across the land. When it rained, the bird took shelter wherever it could; a flowering bush, a protective branch, and once, with a group of other birds, which seemed to speak the same language. The last time that a group of the birds too shelter together, the feather listened closely as the birds chattered about where they had come from and their hopes for the future.
There was talk of flying together – safety in numbers – as the weather started cooling and the days grew shorter. The feather hoped that the bird would join the others in their flight. It all sounded like a great adventure! It continued to worry about not fitting in with the bird’s other feathers, but thought it might be able to forget about it if the flight got exciting. And then, one cool morning, there was no need for words as the birds rose as one and began their flight towards warmer places that would have enough food and shelter for them all. The feather shook with excitement, and a little fear, for what lay ahead.
As the bird rose high into the air with the others, the feather knew that its life would soon change forever. The birds flew, rising and dipping, turning and twisting. It seemed impossible that the flock was hundreds of birds and not just one. the movements were so well coordinated. Quickly, they were higher than the feather had ever been. The wind and force of the upward motion were very strong; pulling the feather until it had no control of itself and fearing it would be pulled loose and left behind as the flock flew south. That fear caused the feather to cling as tightly as ever it had to the bird. Where they were headed was unknown, a mystery; causing fear to swell in the feather. But to be completely alone, left behind and without the unity of the other feathers and birds, would be a sure death.
The birds flew south for day. Each morning, they would rise in flight as if on command, though none was given. Each night, they would land and find shelter and food in a field. And as the birds rose into the sky, each morning, the strong winds again woke fear in the feather. Somehow, it managed to maintain its connection with the bird, although the fear never truly went away. Each night brought relief because the feather kept thinking that the field they had landed in might be their final destination.
Eventually, a morning came when the birds did not take flight, but continued to eat and talk to each other through the day. The feather was happy and even found that there were days when it forgot how different it was from the other feathers. Those days were like golden seeds to the bird because all was well.
Days passed uncounted, but enjoyed. Eventually, the days started getting longer and warmer. The feather had been noticing other flocks of birds in the air. They all seemed to be flying in the direction the bird had come from. Once again, the feather found itself confused and feeling different from the others. Unsure of itself, it again began its gyrations, attempting to blend in with the others. It was actually more difficult than it had been earlier in the feather’s life. The feather’s shape had changed and it was also stiffer now. The twisting and turning that it had done before with temporary success was virtually impossible now. The tension of twisting was so great that as soon as it started to relax, it sprang back to its previous position, protruding at an angle away from the head of the bird.
Exhausted and discouraged, the feather gave up trying to fit in with the other feathers and shifted its focus to the lengthening days and increased activity in the sky. And then on morning, as had happened before the birds had flown here, birds again gathered in the area that the feather’s bird was. When the flock had gathered and rested for a few days, it again race as one being and climbed high into the air. Fly and roost, fly and roost, the flock traveled to the north. When, again, a morning came when the flock did not take to the sky, the feather knew it was home for a time.
Day by day, the flock grew smaller as birds flew to nearby areas, usually in pairs. The feather’s bird was still part of a larger group. The feather wondered how the birds decided to stay with the group or to pair up and move off. Once again, the feather was confused by the events going on around it. It quieted itself. No longer did it try and make itself like the other feathers. That had become too difficult as well as not working. The feather became quiet. It couldn’t fit in, and it also didn’t want to draw attention to itself. In its stillness, the feather felt the warmth of the sun and the gentle brush of a breeze, opening itself to absorb it all. The warm breeze helped it to feel strong and confident.
As the flock grew smaller, the feather noticed that the bird was acting differently around the remaining birds. With some, it was aggressive and tried to get them to leave. With other birds, it seemed to show off by walking proudly and trying to get their attention. When the bird was around these birds, the feather felt a tingle running up its shaft. This feeling made it want to pull away from the other feathers and to stand as straight and tall as it could. It actually wanted to be different and for the other birds to look at it because of how uniquely different it was.
Finally, the bird was chosen by one of the other birds that gave it a lot of attention, even as the others drifted away in pairs. As the two birds came together, the feather understood its difference and was glad about it. It had been the key to gaining the other bird’s attention. The feather’s angle and length showed that it was stronger than all of the other feathers on all of the other birds. It was because of this strength that the other bird had chosen the feather’s bird. The feather was happy with a deep contentment. To be so different from the other feathers, to not fit in, had been a gift that the feather was able to give the bird. To fit in, as it had tried so hard to do, would have left the bird alone when all the others had found a match. Realizing this, the feather quivered, held itself up as straight and tall as it could, spread itself to catch the breeze, and was happy.
The feather’s happiness continued until one day when the bird became angry at the feather and plucked it out, tossing it into a mud puddle. The feather was confused by the bird’s action. It wanted to be back with the bird, to return to that was impossible once it had been plucked. The feather lay in the puddle until the water had dried up. Now, covered in dirt, the feather felt invisible as it blended in with the ground. A tremendous sadness filled the feather, as it believed that it would remain on the ground until passers-by had trampled it into dust.
Many people traveled the path that the feather lay in. Some did step on it, causing bruising and rough it up a bit. It felt that its fears had been justified and were coming to be, and it wilted even further. Its days of purpose were gone. So, too, was the fear and excitement of clinging tightly to the bird as it flew high into the sky with the other birds as they traveled.
One day, a light rainfall started and fell continuously through the day. The tiny drops fell on the feather gently. Those that fell around it were not even large enough to make a sound or puddle as they hit the ground.
A woman walked down the path with her eyes downcast in sadness. She was thinking of her sleepless child who was having bad dreams that woke him the moment he fell asleep. As her lowered eyes followed the path, she saw the feather. The gentle rain had washed away the dirt and its unusual beauty and color now showed. Seeing the feather, the woman remembered the dream catcher that had hung above her bed as a child. Her mother had placed it there when she was having bad dreams and not sleeping. The woman had completely forgotten her own trouble with sleeping until seeing the feather. It was the colors of the feather that was so startling to her. The blues in it were the same color as her mother’s eyes.
Picking up the feather, the woman said a quiet thank you and shed a single tear in gratitude for the gift of the feather. As the tear slid down her cheek, it glistened in the emerging sunlight and looked like a diamond as it fell to where the feather had lain in the path.
The woman created a simple, but beautiful dream catcher. Hanging from its center was the feather.
Note: If you’re not familiar with dream catchers, know this, a dream catcher is a circle made from a slender branch or vine. A sinuous strand is woven across it, looking like a spider web. The web catches the bad dreams, however, the good dreams are able to slide down the feather to the sleeping person below. The feather dangled and drifted as a gentle feather wind blew. Securely attached, yet lithe and purposeful, it felt fulfilled.