For several years, we had a bird's nest tucked under the roof overhang outside our kitchen.
When we were very quiet, we could observe the mother bird sitting on the nest and later, we could see tiny beaks protrude just over the edge of the nest. The baby birds' little mouths would be stretched wide open, hoping for food. And the mother would oblige, tirelessly poking her beak into their beaks, trip after trip.
Soon after, we would see more than just beaks sticking out above the nest. The baby birds themselves would be visible -- first their heads, and soon after, their whole bodies. We would wonder how they could all fit in that small nest.
Then, one day, just as I would be starting to think of them as "our" birds, they would be gone. Disappeared. Never to return.
My question is this: How do they know they can fly? How do they pick that exact moment when they can leave the nest and not crash into the ground? There is no room for error, because if they don't successfully fly that first time, they will die. And yet we never saw a dead bird below the nest; each time, the very first flight must have been successful.
It is a fitting time to ponder this, as our local high-school seniors are also, in a sense, leaving the nest. They will embark on careers. Most will receive some sort of post-high-school training first, but when they begin their first actual job, how will they know they are ready to "fly solo"?
I've been thinking of this after a recent conversation with my sister. One of her daughters is studying to become a physician's assistant. It is a very rigorous training program, in which she does "rotations" in a variety of medical areas. When she graduates from the program, she will have almost all the responsibilities of a medical doctor.
So right now, my niece is in a surgery rotation. And she is learning to do stitches. Not on material, but on actually human beings. My sister explained that my niece is required to be able to do stitches with only one hand. She must demonstrate she can perform this feat using either hand.
How do you know when you're ready to do stitches? How do you prepare for that moment when you are stitching together the skin of an actual human being? How does she have the confidence to perform "solo" for the first time?
My sister informed me that, the first time she does it alone, she does it on a patient who is under anesthesia (so if my niece slips up, it won't hurt) and she also does it on a wound that is under the surface of the skin, so that if she makes a mistake, it won't show anywhere that anyone could see it.
Then I started thinking about other professions. My husband's business is called the "practice" of law -- as if one is just practicing. But how does one have the courage to take on that first case, with someone's legal rights resting in the fresh-out-of-law-school hands of a totally inexperience rookie?
Yet there has to be a first time. I can remember him bringing home his first case file, and spending a lot of time perusing it oh-so-carefully.
A hairdresser has to face that first solo haircut -- what if the client is unhappy? You can't replace the hair; it will take time to grow back. And teachers? No amount of book learning in educational psychology and teaching methods can totally prepare one for facing the first class of students alone.
But then again, who prepares us for parenthood? Before our first child, we took a Red Cross class in which we practiced giving baths and changing diapers -- on dolls. They even gave us a little card certifying that we had taken and passed that class. But nothing could have prepared us for the first night at home with our newborn.
It's amazing what confidence, luck, training and faith can do. There's no choice -- to embark on anything worthwhile, there has to be a first time. Ready or not, the birds leave the nest, the students graduate, and the careers begin.
Good luck to all the graduates as they fly!
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.