I’m guessing that nearly all of us have heard the short story, “The Ugly Duckling,” because the phrase “ugly duckling” has become part of our daily metaphorical language. I hadn’t read the actual story, however, since my children were young, and even then it was an abridged picture book version, so I didn’t realize how long the original story was. Following is a brief summary.
As a mother duck watched her eggs hatch, she was surprised to see an unusually large and ugly duckling emerge from the last egg. When she introduced her brood to the other farm animals, the ugly duckling was bitten and pushed and made fun of—by the other ducks and by the chickens and turkeys as well. Eventually all the animals in the farmyard—including his siblings, his mother, and the girl who fed the animals—were unkind to him.
When the abuse became unbearable, the ugly duckling flew away, but everywhere he was rejected and persecuted. Winter came bitterly, and the duckling suffered greatly from the cold. When the warmth of spring came, he flapped his newly strong wings, which lifted him high into the air. Seeing a group of swans he flew toward them and settled close to them in the water, all the while terrified of their rejection.
When the swans rushed to meet him, he lowered his head in surrender to the anticipated punishment, but there in the surface of the water he saw his own reflection and realized that he was himself a graceful and beautiful swan. Children gathered to throw bread and cake to him, and to say that he was the most beautiful swan of all.
Without pride, he rustled his feathers, curved his slender neck, and cried joyfully, "All the while I was an ugly duckling, I never dreamed of such happiness as this."
We are all ugly ducklings. From an early age, people did not see who we really were. Often we were treated badly, so we felt bad about ourselves. We didn’t see who we were, and that blindness has continued to the present. But we can find people who can clearly see who we are, and with their help we can begin to recognize the truth about ourselves and to rejoice in who we are and who we can become.