As I was packing things up in boxes I remembered that all month I've been thinking about these two little penguins, which have been standing on my bookcase, and what they symbolize.
When Jon and I were engaged we went to the theater to see the film "March of the Penguins." The film is about the migration and mating patterns of emperor penguins. Emperor penguins are unique because it is the male penguin who sits on the egg instead of the female penguin. In fact, male and female emperor penguins really have quite a remarkable partnership.
Every year the penguins make a mass migration to the part of the iceberg where the ice is the thickest and begin the process of selecting their mate for that year. The process takes them several weeks, even though they don't have much time until the weather becomes hostile. Still, they take the time to select a good mate because they know that if their partnership fails then it means that there will be no new life that year. The survival of their species depends on successful male-female partnerships.
Once the female has laid the egg she transfers the egg to the father, who sits on it while the mother makes a treacherous trek of several hundred miles to the ocean in order to get the food that she and her chick will need to survive the winter. While the mothers are gone the fathers huddle together to shield their eggs from the incredibly harsh winter winds. When the egg hatches the father regurgitates a meal (even though he himself hasn't eaten for months) that he has been storing in a special "pouch" to give the chick the nourishment it needs to survive until the mother can get back.
If the mother doesn't return (because she got eaten by a seal or died on the trek) then the father has to abandon the chick, who will die in the cold, in order to return to the sea to get the nourishment he needs. He knows he can't provide what the chick needs all by himself. If the mother does return then she and the father will spend the next several months taking turns caring for the chick while the other one makes the trek to the sea for food (which gets shorter as the season progresses). Eventually the chick will be old enough to take care of itself and the father and mother return to the sea to eat until it is time to do the same thing again the next year. It is really inspiring to watch these penguins work together.
Jon and I bought our little penguin statuettes as part of our wedding decorations and had them placed next to our guest registry during our reception. I am sure that our guests thought they were a bit strange (we didn't tell anyone what they were for) but Jon and I wanted to remind ourselves of the counsel given in "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" which says,
" By , fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners." (emphasis added)We wanted to make the formation of a successful and thriving family our highest priority, even above personal aspirations and goals, and we wanted to work as equal partners to accomplish it.
In our marriage we've tried really hard to remember that even though one of us may be leaving the family in order to make an arduous and dangerous trek to the sea for food, while the other stays behind to endure sub-zero temperatures and starvation to incubate the egg (or vice-versa) that in the end we are both working towards the same goal.
And every year at Christmas time we pull out our little penguins to remind us that the promise of continuing life, whether for penguins or for humans, depends on successful marriages.