One year ago today, I flew to New Zealand to stand up in my brother’s wedding. Nearly three years earlier, I met my now sister-in-law through a mutual friend. She told me she was a Kiwi. I assumed she meant the fruit. She said, “No, the bird.”
Apparently, the kiwi bird is a really big deal in New Zealand. These people LOVE their kiwis. So much that it became their international nickname.
So, naturally, when we booked our flights for the wedding, the topic came up. “Hey, maybe you’ll get to see a real kiwi,” Moira said.
I sure hoped so. After all, they must be quite magnificent to be worthy of such reverence.
When I first heard of the kiwi bird, I pictured the most beautiful, exotic animal—a Dr. Seuss-like creature built like a flamingo but colored like a peacock.
Perhaps I should’ve Googled it before getting so excited.
As soon as I landed in Auckland, I discovered the error of my assumption—because kiwi birds actually look like this…
Imagine my disappointment. All this fuss over a beaked mouse? They don’t even fly!
They certainly are beloved, though. No mistake about that. The kiwi and its symbol appear everywhere in New Zealand. They cover signs, billboards, and t-shirts. Conservation groups devote time and resources to protecting their endangered population. Birdlife parks house them, giving tourists a guaranteed kiwi sighting, for a small fee of course. The kiwi even graces the backside of the one dollar coin.
But why? Why do New Zealanders so proudly associate themselves with these plain little creatures that barely qualify as birds?
It’s definitely not for the glamour.
So I looked into it, like the curious person I am. I learned that kiwi birds live only in New Zealand (in the wild anyway). And as sort of a bird/mammal hybrid, the kiwi has qualities that make it different from any other animal on earth.
New Zealanders don’t care what the kiwi looks like. It’s a mark of uniqueness. Never mind that it’s not a big, flashy standout. It’s simplicity is the essence of its beauty. No bells or whistles required.
No, it’s not about glamour at all. It’s much deeper than that. Glamour is all looks. All surface. Superficial qualities only go so far.
It’s about seeing a deeper meaning underneath the outer layer. It’s about finding the extraordinary in something that, on the surface, looks quite ordinary.
Unfortunately, our minds tend to pull us toward outer beauty. That which looks better, we label as such. We judge every book by its cover. We can’t help it. We all make snap judgments.
But we can learn to recognize those tendencies and challenge the assumptions that follow.
Maybe nothing is as ordinary as it looks.
During my trip, each time I saw an image of a kiwi I remembered my original mental picture—the flamingo-peacock mix of color and elegance.
I assumed its significance must be wrapped up in its appearance. “Call us kiwis because look how pretty they are!”
Until I learned that its significance is actually planted in its meaning. “Call us kiwis because they’re deeply rooted, highly respected, and truly original.”
If I didn’t make the effort to learn that, I might have written the kiwi bird off as nothing more than a disappointment. Nothing to see here. Just small, brown, and boring.
Maybe I wouldn’t have realized that hidden magnificence just might be the best kind.
It’s easy to feel like you fall short of the grand expectations of our image-driven culture. Maybe you feel that way on the outside and you wonder what people think when they see you. Or maybe you feel that way on the inside and you wonder what people think when they interact with you.
May we all learn to see the deepest layers of ourselves and appreciate the qualities that make each of us unique.
May we all learn to look past our assumptions about each other and exercise the willingness to open our minds and learn something new.
And may we all remember that our worth lies not in appearances and first impressions, but in the underlying truth that we are all beautifully original.
Just ask a kiwi.