Persons, places and things: Kindling warm and compassionate love


By Barb Arland-Fye


A photo on Facebook evoked tender feelings in me, but I wondered if the image of two penguins, each with one flipper around the other’s back, was too good to be true. The Facebook post said the “widowed” penguins were consoling each other as they watched the city lights in Melbourne, Australia, each night. Snopes, a fact-checking resource on the internet, confirmed my suspicions that there was more to the story.

The photo appeared on Instagram in March 2020 and drew wide interest by mid-December 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Somehow, I did not see the image until recently when it appeared in my Facebook feed. The photo is authentic, but the text that accompanies it requires context and clarification.

“In the original caption, (photographer Tobias) Baumgaertner noted that he had spent hours observing the two penguins ‘flipper in flipper,’” Snopes reported. “A volunteer approached him, saying that the white penguin was an ‘elderly lady who had lost her partner and apparently so did the younger male.’” Baumgaertner wrote in the caption that the pair of penguins “meet regularly comforting each other and standing together for hours watching the dancing lights of the nearby city.”


The internet publicity apparently caught the attention of the scientific community, which Baumgaertner said advised him that “anthropomorphizing animals can have a negative influence, especially those living in such close proximity to urban areas,” according to the Snopes article.

Vikki McCloskey, a biologist and curator of the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences told Snopes “it is entirely possible that, if both birds lost their partners, they may have re-paired with one another.” She also said, “Just like human partners, if everything is going well — holding territory, producing fertile eggs, raising offspring successfully — the pair will stay together. Sometimes they ‘break up,’ sometimes they ‘cheat,’ sometimes one dies — none of this means they won’t find a different partner.”

Clearly, the photo and video clips of the penguin couple made an impression on people, like me, longing for glimpses of kindness, compassion and solidarity in a world that seems so inexplicably angry.

Another story, about a plane accident in Tanzania Nov. 6, caught my attention for the same reason. To date, the accident has claimed 19 lives; 24 people have been rescued. Forty-three people were on board, according to CNN. Video footage from the crash site showed a long line of people pulling on a rope, like a tug of war. They appeared to be attempting to pull the plane to shore. The display of solidarity, of people working together, for the sake of others, filled my heart.

So, too, a story I heard from my husband and sons about a man who collapsed on the ice during their sled hockey game last Sunday night, apparently suffering from a seizure. My family described how others rushed to the man’s aid and while waiting for an ambulance, assured him that they would not leave his side. My son, Colin, told me, “Mom, we need to pray for him tonight.”

These demonstrations of compassion and benevolence reassure me that goodness exists in the world, but it doesn’t have to be limited to tragedies, catastrophes or personal loss. Pope Francis tweeted on Nov. 6, “The Holy Spirit is a wellspring of unity. His fire burns away worldly desires and kindles in our lives the warm and compassionate love with which Jesus loves us, so that we in turn can love one another like that” (Pope Francis @Pontifex).

The Holy Father’s reflection is something we can practice; it doesn’t require fact checking.

(Contact Editor Barb

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