The Red Bird in The Penguin Tribe: My Life in the Past Year

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Do you want to know what happened to me during the past year?

This blog’s inactivity clearly indicates that something did happen to me. Is it good? Is it bad? I don’t really know. The most accurate word to describe what happened to me is simply ‘change’. I have changed. As the dust has started to settle in my mind, I am now ready to recount the events of the past year to you.

To make things more interesting and to avoid giving away too specific details, I will tell you about a bird with red feathers, in a story heavily inspired by the book ‘A Peacock in the Land of Penguins by BJ Gallagher Hateley’.

I was born in this small, snowy island. It wasn’t much but it was home. My friends and family had always admired me for my burning red feathers, my unique voice and my ability to fly high. I was strong and smart. And even though I could have flown to other islands, I chose to stay closed to my nest.

Like any snowy islands, the biggest and most powerful group of birds here was the penguin tribe. They were the very first group to settle here. They basically ran the island and made it prosperous. Given my glowing talents and energy, they accepted me into their tribe. I was happy to be recognized and to be part of a great, stable organization.

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From the very first day that I joined the group, I was given black and white suits and was instructed to wear them every time I came to work. I obliged believing that if I conformed to their rules, I would be accepted and successful in their ranks. After all, their system brought them great wealth so it must work.

For years, I learned the penguins’ way. They were hard-working and disciplined creatures. They were short-sighted and they usually moved around slowly and uniformly. They held to the chain of command extremely tightly. Whatever the big elder penguins do, the rest followed.

I remained silent, refrained from taking flight, moved around slowly on foot. I did my best to act like them. As a result, I moved up the rank fairly quickly. And despite my contempt, I chose to conform. Although I was suffering working among them, I got to remain on this island, in my familiar places, in my comfort zone.

At one point, I was really high in their chain of command. I was running for one of the ‘top penguin’ positions. For the past few years, I ended up working almost exclusively among them and that’s when things really went south.

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These top penguins are intelligent and thorough but far from perfect. Calling them narrow-minded and short-sighted would have been an understatement. The top penguins were obsessive about their hierarchy of power and the conservation of the routines. Their identities and values were solely dependent on their being superior. To them, there was only one way to do anything and that was their way. They mostly lacked empathy and usually saw the worse in other lower ranked penguins. The worst thing was, despite everything, they firmly believed they were ‘noble’ and ‘righteous’.

Phrases commonly spoken by the top penguins included the following:
‘This is the way it has always been done’
‘This is not your job!’
‘I am TOP PENGUIN!’
‘Do exactly what I say or we cannot work together’
‘When will you learn to put those red feathers away?’
‘We only accept REAL penguins here’
‘Are you saying it’s my fault!?’
‘Say you are a failure, do it out loud!’

I was oppressed, abused and sometimes dehumanized. I came to realize the cold hard fact that I have been blindly over idolizing them. What’s more, when I tried to reach for help, there was none given either.

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I also found that some of the ‘top penguins’ were actually other birds who managed to seamlessly disguised themselves as penguins. These were called the ‘faux penguins’. There was one pigeon which thrived through obedience and meekness. There was a chicken which always complained about problems but did nothing to solve them. There was also an ostrich which buried its head in the ground and avoid facing any kind of trouble.

I was not a pigeon, chicken or ostrich. And I was certainly not a penguin. I was as intelligent and resourceful as the top penguins were, if not more. The top penguins knew that and it was the only reason they let me into their circle in the first place.

But the longer I was force to disguise myself, the more I suffered. My red feathers seemed to keep seeping through my penguin suits. The more I tried to make monotonous penguin sounds, the more often my true uncompromising idealistic sound slipped out. The harder I tried to walk the short-stepped walk in their line, the worse my urge to spread out my wings and fly became.

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At first I felt ashamed. And the top penguins kept reminding me so. It took me a while to know that letting my self-respect and self-esteem rested on their judgments was not the way to go. They would never perceive my red feathers as beautiful. I was condemned for not being meek and silent. I was persecuted for not being able to swim like them and if I tried, I would have drowned. I had nothing but admiration for their ability to swim but they had nothing but contempt for my ability to fly.

During the last phase of my time on the snowy island, I sometimes chose not to wear penguin suits. I even occasionally flew around and sang with my own voice, alone. Oblivious to the fact that they were the real problem, the top penguins summoned me to their ice cave and started asking if I had any ‘problem’, or if I had lost my aspiration. In the second and third ‘meeting’, they outright said that this island only accepts ‘real’ penguins. And that was it.

It was intimidating to leave the island where I had spent my entire life on. That was the first time I had to leave my comfort zone. It was intimidating but if I still wanted to pursue the same goal, I had to.

I flew away and soon arrived on a tropical island. It was a whole new world. This tropical island was not as big, prosperous or organized as the snowy island. But it was warm and lively. I was immediately welcomed into the island by the local birds. On the very first day I arrived, one local bird told me ‘We have too few reds around, your fiery red color will make our group even more beautiful!’ and I knew I came to the right place.

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There were all kinds of birds here; the magnificent eagles, the elegant swans, the busy hummingbirds, the colorful parrots, the wise owls, the scary crows, the friendly doves, the noisy ducks and all the species I knew from the snowy island, including the penguins. But here, none of them wore similar suits. Each bird did what they did best the way that suited them most. There were all variation of sounds, endless ranges of colors and a constant commotion of activities. To my surprise, many of these birds had also migrated from other places.

At the time I was writing this, it had been six months since I joined the tropical island. It was not perfect but I was happy. The most shocking thing was the realization that I had never been this happy for a long time. If I hadn’t left the snowy island, I would never have known that I was suffering. I would never even have a chance to see any other possibilities. I would have been trapped there just because I was too afraid to leave my comfort zone. I could not imagine what I would have become, what those penguins would have turned me into.

On the other hand, spending the past year among the top penguins had many positive effects. In a matter of months, I had come to know myself far better than the 20 years I spent among regular penguins. And I was happy to say that the ‘Me’ I have discovered was really, really cool. I had never known how strong I could be. I could have been broken, bitter or muted. Instead, I rose from the ashes of my past ordeal and evolved into an even greater version of myself, completed with stronger and wider wings, sharper sight, brighter feathers and clearer and unique voice.

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I knew that now my life was full of possibilities and hope. I was free. I knew I had all the strengths I need to fly higher and farther. I enjoyed all the little things happening in daily life. I enjoyed all the new, diverse species of birds I met. And most importantly, I was grateful for my family who had always had my back through the hard times among the penguins. I recently flew back to the snowy island to visit them and the island seemed different from what I remembered. Of course, the only thing that had actually changed was myself.

So now you know what I have been up to all these months. I was not sick or dead or have given up. I was busy evolving, learning and participating. After the chaos, it took some time to really understand what happened. For the first time in my life I truly respect myself. I have no idea what the future holds but I know that whatever comes next I will be fine.

Lastly, I want you to know that I intend to continue writing about anime on this blog, though the pacing could be a bit unpredictable. Let the beginning of the year herald a new and exciting chapter of this blog, my life and yours!

Ps. I haven’t told you what species of bird I am. Feel free to take a wild guess!

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