A fable of Aesop tells the story of a raven who envied the beautiful plumage of the swan. Raven decided that the water the swan swam in must be what produced the beautiful feathers, and so raven left the place where he ate and lived and began living in the lake and area where the swan lived. Some time later, starved for food and with no change in his feathers, the raven died.
Like a lot of fables, the message is stark. It also offers another view into our theme of metamorphosis as change. As many of our reflections this month have implied, real, deep change often comes from unexpected places and in ways that we would rather not face. This fable teaches, however, that we are sometimes too quick to go after the change that seems easy and which affects only our external selves. Swim in this water. Take this pill. Wear this piece of clothing. Drive this car. Use this toothpaste. Eat this piece of fruit. They all promise instant change that we want to believe will make us happy.
Recently, I was discussing with a Latin student the best word to describe a raven or crow in a fable that she was writing with two other classmates. I suggested niger. She said that she thought the word for black was ater. There are two Latin words for black. Niger means a kind of black that is shiny and brilliant. Ater means a kind of black that is flat and dull.
I’ve spent time observing crows and ravens. They are gorgeous, brilliant, shiny creatures. Asphalt is flat and dull. My student had never seen a raven or a crow. Real change is based on real sight. When real change takes place, we begin to see the beauty involved. Most people don’t think of crows or ravens as beautiful birds. Do those attitudes convince the “ravens” of life that they are ugly? That’s a shame. I’ve looked deeply into ravens and they are incredible, gorgeous beings.
When you look deeply into your own self, what really important and magnificent things do you see?