Where do people come from?
Our children are always interested in where they come from. We do our best to explain. We show them baby pictures and old scrapbooks. This leads to more questions. So we speak of parents, then of parent’s parents, and so on. Eventually our children ask the question that we’ve all asked. The question that, aware of it or not, always lingers in our mind. It is perhaps the first question ever asked.
We have an answer, my wife and I. It’s not universally accepted, and try as we might, we have located no “hard” evidence of its truth or exact origin. But we believe in this answer. For the answer is a story that speaks in the quiet of the still darkness that is the Truth.
As with all narratives made of whole cloth, the origins of this story are difficult to track down. I’ve tried, believe me. But every time I find a group that swears by their argument, another faction presents some worn ancient parchment to document their claim. The pursuit of this particular truth is near-impossible. Not to mention so unsatisfying.
I’ve concluded that pulling back the curtain just lets go an unending string of confusion. Sometimes it’s simply best to lose one’s self in the story.
Sometimes the story supplies all the voracity that is necessary.
Before There Were People There Was The Ostrich
And before the ostrich, there was the need to create the ostrich.
Long ago was the Age of Chaos when existence was ruled by the few. Then came justice and equality from which dawned the Age of Meritocracy. It was in this time that the ostrich was created.
Created, more accurately designed, naturally, by committee. In that age of meritocracy numerous committees were formed from the then existing animals. Each committee set about to design and create new creatures. Possibly thousands of committees met, debated, formed quorums, discussed, argued, and debated some more.
Though, only the record of the committee of camels and their work to design the ostrich survives.
Scores of camels came together in the middle of the desert at a shallow oasis. Surrounding the meager pool were only a few scrubby trees. Some camels laid down in the little shade there was, others in the full sun. Many stood, while a few padded nervously about; for their task was great. The ideal ostrich was to be created:
Long thing legs that bent backwards, a thick squat feathered body, small useless wings, and a long neck topped by a tiny head.
“Best to get started then.” As camels are generally calm animals, each spoke politely and in turn.
The Issue of Legs
One camel opened, “Two legs then right? It is a bird after all.”
“Why only two?!” Replied another.
“Well an ostrich only has two legs.”
“Says you! I say four! Four good hairy legs.” A lounging camel added
There came about some clamor and debate.
Finally compromise emerged. “How about two legs? With some minimal fur.” Go on. “We’ll put on thicker feet so they can walk across the sand easier.”
“I like this. But four legs would make weight distribution easier when crossing the dessert.”
Hmm. “Just make the bottom of the legs long and wide so they won’t sink in the sand.”
“What would we call them?”
“I don’t know.” The camel shrugged, “how about feet?”
“Like the unit of measurement, won’t that cause confusion?”
“Should work out just fine. Things usually do work out just fine.”
The lead camel agreed, “A great attitude! So then, how about two legs, some minimal fur, feet, and let’s say all the knees bend forward?”
“Fine, fine then! Let’s move on.”
Onto the body. “Squat and fat, like a proper ostrich body I say.”
Seconded another, “Certainly! Covered in feathers to keep the animal warm.” Came the chorus in response, “Right!”
“A move to approve the body?”
“Wait a minute,” interjected another camel, “the thing only has two legs. You put them in the front, it’s back falls over. Legs in the back, front falls down. That’s why any superior animal has four legs.” All the camels vigorously nodded their agreement at this.
This was a fair point. What a wobbly ostrich they would have with two legs and a squat body. “It’s a matter of physics you see. How about we revisit the leg situation?” There was merit to this proposal. The camels looked hesitantly at each other for a few beats. Could they revisit the leg situation? Just how did these things work? What was the procedure?
“No, I have it!” Said a camel from the side, “What if we flip the body around so it’s tall and skinny. That way two legs could hold the thing up.”
“Yes?” The committee of camels could not argue with the physics of the thing. “Yes then?” There was a great nodding of heads as if to say ‘. . .okay? . . ’ “This seems to be acceptable.
“Now how about the feathers?” Came a voice from the back, “How do you keep them clean?”
A young camel spoke for the first time and suggested, “licking?”
“Licking is gross!” Spat out a camel. Another camel spat, “Gross!” As she rose to her feet in anger.
And there proceededa great spatting of camels. Accompanied by a cacophony of “GROSS!”
Now wait a minute. Just calm down camels. Licking it shall not be. “You have one thing correct!” There followed many hurumphs.
“How about there be a breakout session of small groups to examine the issue. Say we divide by Bactrians, Dromedaries, and Alices?”
And so the camels divided themselves into the groups.
And after some debate the small groups regrouped into one large group. The Bactrians presented first. “We suggest the ostrich live in the sea where the water will continually clean it.”
Yes, I see. What say you Dromedaries? “Soap. We propose soap to clean the feathers with.”
Fair enough. Alices. Do you have a solution? “Remove the feathers, have bare skin with a little fur just as the legs.” What if the animal is cold? “Clothes, we propose the invention of clothing.”
And the invention of quite a bit more! Says the author of this story, but let us not quibble with detail as the telling of the tale is more important than its analysis.
A show of humps was counted for each solution and the narrow winner came to be the sea. “So counted. The ostrich shall live in the sea then.” The Alice’s spoke up, “We feel very passionate about clothing. It can be removed and cleaned.” “By soap,” added the Dromedaries. “In the sea,” contributed the Bactrians.
Beautiful! Is there anything more perfect than compromise in the democratic process!
Onto the wings then.
“Stubby and useless for flight naturally.”
“How about we make the wings be able to do something?” A particularly thoughtful camel added, “how about flying? We are designing a bird after all.”
Fair point. “No,” the first camel replied, “how about we make the wings so they can pick things up.” Like what? “The soap, the clothes perhaps?” There was a considerable amount of nodding at this.
“So how would the useful picking-up-things wings look?”
“Uhm. I’m just spitballing this. But let’s say, long and skinny like the legs. How about, in the middle, we give them little knees, maybe there’s a better name for those. These little knees would allow the useful wings to bend more. And on the end some sort of mouth like thing to pick things up with.”
“Tiny useful wings perhaps? Arranged opposite to each other?”
“Yes, but make them tiny tiny useful wings, opposite each other that are like little claws.” Like a beak!
“Allright. Is everyone on board with the useful wings without feathers, little knees, and tiny tiny useful wings on the end that are opposite each other like little claws?”
“That can’t fly.”
“Yes of course, all I said before about the bird’s wings, but not able to fly. Agreed?” The sun was dipping in the sky; everyone would have to be getting on to the next oasis soon.
The neck and head is all we have left.
“Long wobbly looking neck with a small head on top right?” The camels all turned their necks and looked at their companions. A Dromedary spoke up, “Seems like a good solution.” What’s good for the goose and all that.
Another camel suggested, “How about a really short neck and a bigger head.”
“What’s wrong with a long neck?!” A great commotion erupted. The standing camels argued, turning about in the sand. The lounging camels rose adding to the confusion. There was a great collision of necks. Heads were knocked together. This is how headaches first came to be known by the camels.
“Alright. Fair point. Short neck it is.”
Let’s review then. “Legs are a little thicker, with a some fur, and at the bottom are wide feet so they can walk across the sand better. The body is tall and skinny, no feathers. The wings are useful, have little knees in the middle. On the end are tiny tiny useful wings that can pick up things like a claw. The neck is short with a well-proportioned head. We will also invent soap and clothing.”
An Alice interjected, “About the name. I’m never certain how one spells ostretch. I propose we change the spelling and pronunciation.” What do you suggest? “I suggest the name person.”
All right. “For the consideration of the ostrich design. Everything I said previously regarding the body, except we will call it a person. All in favor?” And with the lowering sun there was a great show of humps. “Opposed?” A few humps were shown, but the faction was small and without popular support. “This design of the ostrich is officially adopted then.”