When I was about eight years old I saw a show about penguins on PBS. It was hilarious — they waddled around, acted silly, fell on their faces and so forth. Then I went to the library and got a book on penguins and I was hooked. I collected penguin posters, penguin plush toys, penguin novels, you name it. When I started working at CBS as a child actor I had to fill out a little bio and the first thing I put down under "Interests" was "penguins." When I went to Regal Lanes to play video games I would usually play a couple of rounds of Pengo just out of loyalty.

But for all the facts I memorized and merchandise I accumulated, I never really understood anything about penguins. They might as well have been unicorns. That's the way I was with everything back then. My social studies teacher had us do oral reports every month or so about various places in the world; I would just rattle off random facts I'd gleaned from atlases. It never even occurred to me to learn about the local culture, to try to find out what life was like in the country I was talking about. I don't know whether that's typical of the way kids that age learn or whether it was just me and my particular spot on the autistic spectrum.

In any case, for all my childhood expertise on Spheniscidae, the actual life cycle of the emperor penguin as depicted in March of the Penguins was new to me. This is not your typical "ha ha look at the penguins fall down" program of the type I saw many times on PBS back in the day. Those sorts of hijinks are mainly reserved for the summer. Once summer's over, the emperor penguins walk seventy miles to their breeding ground, pair off, mate, and once the female lays an egg and transfers it to the male for safekeeping, the rest of the winter is a grim, repetitive affair: the females, starving, walk seventy-plus miles through the polar winter to the sea, while the males, nearly starving, huddle together to protect the eggs, and each other, from the ravages of Antarctic storms. The females gorge on fish and then walk back; the moment they arrive, the males hand off the chicks and race to the coast to feed themselves for the first time in over four months. By the time they return, the females are once again starving, so they head off — shampoo, rinse, repeat until the ice thaws.

And the thing is, this is happening right now. It's early August, smack dab in the middle of the Antarctic winter. Spring won't arrive for a month and a half. As I watched footage of a throng of penguins getting thrashed by winds of a hundred miles an hour at a temperature of eighty below, the exact same thing was happening a few thousand miles away. It still is. As I type this, I am warm, actually a little too warm, in my townhouse in Massachusetts, while some penguin is getting pelted by shards of ice in an environment more typical of Mars than the Earth. If I were rich I could hop into a Hercules 318 aircraft, fly down to Antarctica and touch that penguin. Its experience of this moment is no less real than mine.

I've been having some health problems lately and have found myself thinking along these same lines during the worst moments: "I've felt fine in the past; I'll presumably feel fine in the future; but for now I am trapped in this moment of suffering. I can't put it on pause and come back when I'm ready. I can't skip ahead to when the pain has subsided. Someday this will just be a memory. But now I am here." Sure enough, here I am typing this and feeling pretty much fine, separated by time from the suffering of my past self just as I'm separated by distance from the suffering the penguins are enduring this very moment. But that moment was real. Similarly, I am separated by time from the moment of my death — but it too is no less real, lurking out there in the cold future. I won't be able to put things on pause or quickly hit rewind; I'll be trapped in that moment too. And that will be the last one.

March of the Penguins! Feel-good hit of the summer!

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