Text of radio essay: on ‘the march of the penguins’

Recently, my husband and I went to see the movie that we’d been hearing so much about, “March of the Penguins.” And we were mesmerized, like everyone, by the majestic and sweetly awkward Emperor Penguins waddling and sliding in single file for miles across the Antarctic ice to breed and bear their young. We were fascinated by the mysterious way they choose a partner from a sea of look-alikes, and by the way the mothers and fathers pass first the egg, and then the new chick, gently back and forth between them, their feathered belly flaps providing protection from deadly cold.

But for my husband and me, the film struck a surprisingly personal chord. When you have been trying, like we have, to have a child for five years without success, and you see a movie billed as “the incredible true story of a family’s journey to bring life into the world,” you can’t help but see things a little differently.

We were especially gripped by the moment, as the penguins are passing their eggs between them, when one couple’s egg rolls away, just inches out of reach. With heart-stopping quickness, the egg fills with frozen cracks and darkens like a stone while the bewildered parents look on. The movie quickly cuts away from this couple, but even now I find myself wondering what happened to them, just like I wonder about the penguins without a mate, or the ones who can’t produce an egg at all. Are these the ones we see without a belly bulge, wandering the outskirts of the penguin huddle? Is there room for them in the circle, I want to ask, the ones whose stories are difficult, or sad, or hard to explain?

Don’t get me wrong. We liked the movie, we really did. What the penguins go through to bear their young is nothing short of heroic, and as the fuzzy little chicks waddled off on their own, we cheered the improbable triumph of it all. Still, it reminded us how deeply we long for our own uplifting, against-the-odds ending, here in the midst of our long journey across the vast ice.

With a perspective, I’m Thea Sullivan.


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