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A Duck and a Duty

A Duck and a Duty


As I lower myself, the seat squeaks a response that is not lost on mallards patrolling a busy lake. They swivel their keen green heads to gaze silent approval at their wooden informant.

They await my move.

Sure enough, after a pleasurable pause to absorb a delightful marriage of sun, leaves and lake, I remove a bakery bag containing a Danish. This is the cue for an entire mallard clan to exit the water.

Truth be told, I am hungry, and my kosher Danish is both unnaturally expensive and disturbingly petiteI munch away, a webbed audience waddling desperately towards me, unsuccessfully attempting to disguise their extreme interest in my snack.

Instinctively, I tear off a small portion of pastry and drop it near my bench. All protocol dissolves as a feather flurry surrounds my morsel of mortal cuisine. Amused, I drop another piece, generating a collision of quacks. And then another . . .

Truth be told, I am hungry, and my kosher Danish is both unnaturally expensive and disturbingly petite. The mallards, on the other hand, lack no food; they rule a lake replete with roots and plants. Wild ducks do not require a wealth of human visitors to leave endless snack trails. But there I go again, unthinkingly tearing off yet another portion to treat my yellow-billed friends.

Half of my Danish is gone, but honestly, who can resist feeding these colorful, well-fed birds?

I leave the scene feeling shortchanged and a bit peckish, but strangely satisfied that I have done something good.

On my way home, I pass my local synagogue. Outside, enjoying the fine weather, a veritable army of beggars jabbers away in foreign tongues. The choir pauses only to accost pedestrians with vocal demands for donations.

For years on end, these same familiar figures babble and demand their way through yet another day. Some are shabby; others dress immaculately and in the latest style. A few hobble on canes, although I regularly observe them racing down side streets when off-duty . . . Some are polite, others aggressive. To me, they all appear demanding.

Grimacing, I approach their adopted territory, bracing for an attack. Like clockwork, it comes:

Tzedakah!” “Charity!” “Help the poor!” “Zei gezunt!” “Please help!” “Tzaddik’l!” “Sh’koi’ach!” “Ah mitzvah!” “Gutten tag!”

Had I not given these same collectors a few coins yesterday and the day before that? What am I, a bank?They emphasize their trademark calls by frantically agitating cans of coins. For someone who enjoys tranquil moments on lakeside benches, this only adds commotion to intimidation. I am outnumbered seven to one by a chorus of flapping and quacking.

Am I ready to dig into my pockets and fish out a handful of hard-earned quarters?

Had I not given these same collectors a few coins yesterday and the day before that? What am I, a bank? Why, most of these collectors seem to sit there and play their role for social reasons—a jolly society of beggars!

Do these people deserve my money? Since when does cash drift gently from leafy poplars? Even my pastry was a momentary weakness.

As these uncharitable thoughts flash through my system, I suddenly recall my mallards:

I had torn piece after piece off my lunch, willingly surrendering them to plump fowl with endless supplies of natural sustenance.

I had done so without hesitation, without judgment, with a sense of amusement, even a hint of joy. It was delightful to watch those creatures announce their pleasure at receiving an unearned handout.

I blush inwardly as I recognize my eagerness to benefit mere mallards that thrive completely independent of human generosity, that lack sophisticated emotion, intelligence, or any sense of shame, honesty or reward.

Why am I suspiciously hesitant to do the same for fellow humans, my own brothers and sisters whom circumstances have forced to overcome the shame of begging? Humans requiring and appreciating assistance, individuals who form a series of independent universes of emotion, intellect, joy and suffering.

Am I prepared to reduce a class of humanity—for whom the Creator of the universe personally advocated—below the rank of a green-headed drake?

The mallards win again.

I withdraw all my loose change. Much like the betraying creak of a lakeside bench, the faint jingle in my pocket resounds like a clarion to the collectors’ ears. Instantly, their eyes light up, their chatter falls away. Instinctively, they hobble closer and thrust their palms towards me, unsuccessfully attempting to disguise their extreme interest in the contents of my pocket.

I smile as I hand each a quarter, inwardly delighting at their obvious pleasure of receiving yet another moment of recognition from yet another passerby.

I wish them good day, and receive a deafening shower of hearty blessings in return.

“Ah danke!” “T’ank you!” “Sh’koi’ach!” “Zeit gezunt!” “Parnasah!” “Shalom!” “All the best!” “G‑d bless!”

There is a humble lesson to be learned from feeding a duck.

Yaakov Paley, originally from Britain, now lives in the States with his family and enjoys seeking the soul within the commonplace.
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Channah Jax, FL May 8, 2011

"A Duck and a Duty" As I awkwardly try to type this, I am leaning over a week old Muscovy duckling in my lap that I rescued, as I have dozens of others. (The pic w/ this article is a Muscovy Duck, BTW ;-) ) These wonderful creatures are so maligned and they are innocent! They ask no more than that you share a little food/time with them. And for that, they will entertain and delight you...if you give them a chance. Muscovys laugh and wag their tails like puppies!
I nearly lost this privledge recently when some nasty neighbors of mine whose motive is hate, tried to get me evicted from my apartment for feeding the ducks at the lake across the street from our apt. complex. It's perfectly legal but these neighbors are still harassing me to the point where the law is now involved. I just don't understand hate for the sake of hate. The only way to deal with this sort of thing is with spirituality and peaceful passivity. Shalom, Channah & Ducky ;-) Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA March 17, 2011

Stop killing the birds, metaphor and literal The author writes "who can resist feeding these colorful, well-fed birds?... I leave... satisfied that I have done something good."

The irony is that he has done something bad. Human-fed birds forget how to find food that exists naturally, and starve when weather or Shabbos interrupts the humans. And Danish is very bad for their health, like feeding a child only candy.

Giving something not to help the recipient, but merely so the giver can feel good, is a selfish act. If harmful to the recipient, it benefits no one.

This is true in a literal way with the birds.

In a deeper way, what happened with the birds is the same as what happened with the human beggars.

Giving to a person known to be faking a disability teaches the person to continue to be dishonest. This giving is not an act of goodness; giving "without judgment" is an act of laziness.

To actually help someone, the giver must put forth the effort -- and judgment -- to give only to those who ask honestly. Reply

Jack Midland Pk, NJ March 17, 2011

Duck story 1. Danish is unhealthy for ducks.
2. The photo in your article is not a mallard.
It might be a goose. Reply

RC Riven Montreal, Canada March 15, 2011

Well done! Love this and your writing. I can so relate. Reply

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