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Watchducks


And as Paul went on and on, a youth named Eutychus grew drowsy as he sat on a window sill; he fell asleep, tumbled out the window of the three-story building, and died. But Paul went down and flung himself on the youth and, cradling him in his arms, said, “Don’t worry, he’s still alive.” ~Acts 20:9-10

When ducks are not otherwise competing for mates or territory, they will flock together because there is safety in numbers. There typical sleeping arrangement is to form a tight raft on the water leaving the birds on the perimeter as guards. These “watchducks” (there are watchdogs so why not watchducks?) need to keep an eye out for danger...quite literally an eye. Since they are prey not predator, evolution has equipped them with one eye on either side of the head in order to maximize the field of vision to practically 360 degrees. They don’t need to watch their fellow ducks, so the eye facing the raft is redundant. If we were similarly endowed with wide set eyes, we could wink, but they don’t have eyelids to allow them to look from a single eye. They actually have a much more clever adaptation. Each eye is connected to one hemisphere of their brains, so they can actually allow half of their brains to sleep while keeping watch with the other. They can literally sleep on their watch!

Obviously, that is something we are unable to do. When threats surround, we must stay alert, sometimes desperately struggling to stay awake. Fear is a vital tool in keeping us safe. It is a well-founded fear of fast moving tons of steel that teaches us to look both ways before crossing the street. But hyper-vigilance is extremely taxing. We don’t have the energy to remain on high alert 24/7. Clearly, the response cannot be fearlessness. Rather, we must practice fear management. An important initial step is assessment. Is this threat real? Just how much harm is possible? Fear feasts on worst case scenarios.

When the danger is real, we must stay awake. But what about when we no longer can keep our eyes open? We can’t use the ducks’ trick of half-sleeping, but with practice, we can learn to be careful without burning unnecessary energy on unfounded fear. That might help to extend the time we can cope with pressures before burning out, but eventually exhaustion wins. Here is where we can copy the ducks. Not only do they rely on the presence of others to find safety and rest, they also rotate the duties. Half-sleep is not sufficient, so even the watchducks get to rest fully by moving into the group with others taking their places. One of the best ways to dispel fear is simply the presence of another, with or without words we can find comfort.

Prayer: Never-slumbering One, when we can no longer hold our eyes open, may we rest assured that you are present, perhaps in the embrace of one of your children. Amen.

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