Lessons From an Emperor Penguin

As the 4 of you that are loyal readers know, I started writing this blog secure in the belief that Karma was real, and that it might be at least mildly entertaining to sit back, and watch both myself, as well as the world at large get what was coming to them, both good and bad. I had actually planned on something witty and hilarious about what on Earth we, in Central Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas, did to deserve the multitude of earthquakes that have plagued us for the last week or so, and I may still. But right now, all I can see is that the Earth is responding to the awful, horrific events that have come to light from Happy Valley this week.

Our kids think that as they grow, parents have more and more confidence in their abilities to operate independently. Sending them off into the wide world, no matter how short a distance, alone, says to them, “You’re ready. You’ve got this”. As they jump out of the car, disappearing into the doorway of whatever building we have sent them, they have learned to say (in the words of my 11 year old), “I’m good”. What they don’t realize is that when we drop them off, sending them out into the world of scouts, basketball practice, sleepovers with the neighbor kid, they’re not heading off into the world alone. Oh, no. In fact, the “handoff” is a delicate dance, as finely tuned and precise as two Emperor penguins moving a baby chick from one set of feet to another. One misstep, one mistake, and the baby hits the ice and freezes to death within minutes.

The only thing that allows us to function as parents as we start to teach our children to develop independence, is the ability to look in the eyes of adults we hand our children to, and know that above all else, “you will not drop my child”. That whatever “penguin” we have trusted our children to, will keep them safe, warm, and away from the leopard seals of the world. This is what makes the whole Penn State situation so disturbing, and so terrifying. Make no mistake about it, the leopard seal here is Jerry Sandusky. I know he has yet to be convicted by a jury; however, he has admitted to enough heinous activity already that there is no doubt about what kind of predator he is. If you’ve watched documentaries on Emperor penguins, you know that leopard seals will typically hide under the ice, and pick off the penguins that are either slow, lost, or venture into the water first. Once the other penguins figure out what is going on, they sound the alarm. Occasionally, the seal will make its way onto the surface of the ice, and chaos ensues. Some penguins will make as much noise as they can, both as a warning and an attempt to scare the seal away. And finally, a few brave penguins will put their own lives on the line to try and drive the seal away, back into the dark corner of the water it came from, hopefully bleeding.

No one in authority at Penn State did either of these things. The very ones that should have been at the front lines, doing everything they could to protect those that were not able to protect themselves, did something even worse than running away. They looked the leopard seal in the eye, and all but handed him a napkin with a “bon appétit”. And Joe Paterno, everyone’s beloved JoePa, bears a giant portion of this burden. For years, he did worse than nothing. While this was going on in his locker room, at HIS university (for we all know that he is PSU), under his nose, he was sitting in hundreds of living rooms around the country, looking parents in the eye and saying, “trust us with your young men”.

Yes, JoePa, you did everything you were legally bound to do. But when those babies needed a hero to take on the leopard seal, where were you? How could you not do everything in your power to live up to the image you so carefully crafted, and that the entire nation had of you? And if we, as parents can’t trust that Joe Paterno, the poster child for ethics and morality in college football, would step up, who can we expect to? The first reaction is, “how can I ever let my babies of my sight again?”, but I know I will. I also know that those involved will get exactly what they deserve. I may not ever see it, but trust me, it will happen.

And once again, out of nowhere, here comes the big ol’ karmic blessing. Because deep down inside, under the fear, the revulsion, and the disappointment I’m still feeling, I really do know that there are those that will not drop my child. And that my boys and I have friends and adults in their life that have more guts, integrity, and all around character than Joe Paterno himself. And it’s a pretty amazing feeling. And if there is a leopard seal hiding in our waters, it will be found, and NO ONE will suffer in silence. Not on my watch.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kristen Schoenmann De Haan
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 17:49:09

    Ragan – you have hit it all right on the head. All that you wrote – that’s what I feel. You put it into words so eloquently. Talking of that dance that we, as parents, do when we hand off our child to the trusted adult. I don’t understand how Paterno felt it was okay to just do what the letter of the law said and then see that it continued happening and yet STILL didn’t call the police and get the hell rid of Sandusky. Save the institution? Be damned with the institution! I have more respect for the institution that admits what happened and does whatever they can to help the victims. The institutions that just cover it up? That is heinous!
    So – I thank you, my friend, for writing and speaking my feelings too.


  2. vvvanessa
    Nov 10, 2011 @ 00:17:23

    i *almost* have an easier time forgiving sandusky than i do paterno and the institution that protected and enabled sandusky in his egregious behavior. i’m left utterly dumbfounded by the lengths people went to protect sandusky without any regard for his victims and potential victims. it breaks my heart to think of how utterly these people lacked empathy or what i consider to be really basic common sense.

    in any case, i admire your ability to believe that there are more emperor penguins than seals out there. sometimes i’m not so sure, and i don’t even have baby penguins to worry about. if i did though, i would feel better knowing that you would be one of the good penguins who would catch them.


  3. Trackback: Global Warming vs. Emperor Penguin « Rambling Man of ALS
  4. Big Sis
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 20:36:59

    As usual you nailed it. We are supposed to trust those “father” figures. In this new world, trust is not so easy any more. I think they all should have told and not hoped someone else would do it. Shame, shame, shame on those men in the positions that are supposed to protect our children, not let the wolves past the door. Good job kiddo!


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