A flyway is a flight path used in bird migration. The specific routes may be genetically programed, but that’s not the whole story, I’ll get to that later later. No, I am not writing a research paper, I am trying to make the analogy between human emotions, chronic pain, migratory flight patterns and the march of the penguins. Not entirely sure it is worth exploring further. In fact, almost certain that it is not. But I shall march on none the less. Because, like the penguins, that’s what I do.
I read somewhere that our life history is recorded in our nervous system. Our thoughts, emotions and activities create neuropathways. The pathways communicate information to the central nervous system and we experience it and our brain interprets it. The experience of pain, like all other sensations, is recorded in these neuropathways. One theory about fibromyalgia is that is the result of over active nerves. Our brain keeps getting a pain signal even when there isn’t anything externally causing the pain. The more pain you feel, the more pain you feel. It’s a vicious cycle. The neuropathways are like the grooves in a rock where the water has run in the same place year after year. It becomes a pattern that it is hard to break. The second we feel stress, or fear or pain there is a map showing us the way to go. It’s almost like we don’t have a choice. It’s almost like we are stuck in a flyway. Or maybe we are like the emperor penguins marching on and on, through freezing blizzards; with ineffective legs and wings that don’t work because that’s what emperor penguins have always done.
My brother loved penguins when he was little. Because of that I have always had an affinity for them too. That was before I saw the movie, March of the Penguins, now I find them depressing. Maybe it is all part of some intelligent design. But from where I sit it seems pretty stupid. I think of them rolling that egg back and forth until the father penguin can “catch”the egg and store it semi safely somewhere under him. Then off goes the mother waddling seventy or so miles to the water. I just have to say those legs were not made for walking. It just doesn’t seem right, what with evolution and all, that something like this is happening in this day and age. Maybe it just reminds me of how slowly I plod along in my life. Plodding, plodding, occasionally getting to slide a little on my belly down a hill, but mostly walking slowly toward something. It’s frustrating to say the least.
Even so, there is something comforting about patterns and lists and familiar routes. It helps to make sense of things. I suppose that is why we humans latch onto ideas like the twelve steps or the Ten Commandments or the five stages of grief. We like to know what we’re in for. We like to have some guideposts. Maybe denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are our flyway through grief. But do all of us go through the same steps? Does everyone who has loved and lost suffer in the same way? Possibly, but maybe it’s just an invention; a way to make sense out of nonsense.
Birds may be genetically programmed to fly south in the winter, but they have to be flexible; they know enough to have an alternate route in case of bad weather, lack of food or other changing conditions. I’d like to say the same about myself. I’d like to think that I could change my course if I could see a better way, a less painful route. I know from experience that it takes a lot to find a new rock and start a new groove. And some things may never change no matter how hard we try.