This extraordinary essay came into my life this morning, giving me a name and an allegory to explain wide swathes of my life.
I first read a response to it on one of the websites I faithfully follow, ChumpLady.com. Then I had to scurry over to The Paris Review’s website to read the original. And then put the author’s new book on my Amazon “must read” list.
The essay is about a woman who called off her wedding to a man who encouraged her to be self-effacing and to want less … less than she really needed.
After cancelling the wedding, she went on a wild whooping crane research trip as fodder for future writing. It turned out to be therapeutic, warm and friendly, and a perfect place for reflection. She learned this: “It turns out, if you want to save a species, you don’t spend your time staring at the bird you want to save. You look at the things it relies on to live instead. You ask if there is enough to eat and drink. You ask if there is a safe place to sleep. Is there enough here to survive?”
People are like that too.
She also found an allegory:
“The Crane Wife” is a story from Japanese folklore. I found a copy in the reserve’s gift shop among the baseball caps and bumper stickers that said GIVE A WHOOP. In the story, there is a crane who tricks a man into thinking she is a woman so she can marry him. She loves him, but knows that he will not love her if she is a crane so she spends every night plucking out all of her feathers with her beak. She hopes that he will not see what she really is: a bird who must be cared for, a bird capable of flight, a creature, with creature needs. Every morning, the crane-wife is exhausted, but she is a woman again. To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work. She never sleeps. She plucks out all her feathers, one by one.
I’ll leave you with this haunting quote:
“There are ways to be wounded and ways to survive those wounds, but no one can survive denying their own needs. To be a crane-wife is unsustainable.”