A few weeks ago, on my way to meet a friend for dinner, I noticed a group of birds in the sky. They flew in formation but suddenly broke ranks, clustered, and reformed their V from new positions. I was struck by their inherent reliance on one another. For them, reliance was not optional. It was an understood necessity. Wings grow sore, and someone else moves forward to muffle the wind’s howl.
Courtney Martin reminds us that there is beauty in our limitations. Why then do we continue to lean into gust after gust alone? Exhausted and frazzled, we race against each other as sprinters who must stay within separate lanes. Even among family and friends, so many of us think we must always be the birds at the front of the V. We don’t know when to stop leading, when to take a break. Overwhelmed with thoughts like “If I stop now, I won’t accomplish _____. I don’t want to let _____ down. I’ll be a burden. I’ll be a failure.”
We are not in balance. Not in agreement
as migrating birds are. Late and overtaken,
we hurriedly try to catch the wind
and fall into a random swamp.
A couple of days later, I read an article on why birds fly in V-formations. Two parts have stayed with me. First, the “birds flew in the optimal position, gaining lift from the bird in front by remaining close to its wingtip.” Second, the birds also “timed their wing beats perfectly to match the good air off the bird in front.”
We must learn what the birds already know: Admitting you can’t do it alone, and leaning on those around you is not a weakness — it’s restoration.
So fall back when you need to. Don’t wait until you strain your wings so much that you have to land. As Rilke describes, if you falsify your endurance, you’ll only fall from the sky. And, if you find people that beat with a similar rhythm, keep them close.
I can’t help but wonder… if we valued shameless reliance over solitary perseverance, how much farther could we make it in this great migration?
You — you are a sight for sore wings. I fall behind, attentive to your rough draft. Blissfully sharing your beat, I strengthen in your rhythm, Until aching gives way to only sky.