Nibbled to Death by Ducks

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Nov 29, 2014

“Little things affect little minds.”
Benjamin Disraeli

Did you know that ducks do not have teeth? They do, however, have small grooves inside their bills to help them chew their food.

But like all birds they have gizzards which are those weird organs that have gravel in them. Birds peck at gravel, therefore knocking around their food and breaking it down into small pieces so they can swallow it.

The phrase “Nibbled to Death by Ducks” has been around a long time, perhaps up to 300 years. And since ducks do not have teeth the phrase captures the essence of us allowing very small things (the ducks in our lives) to nibble us to death.

Every summer Ed and Gladys Berkey invite us to join them in Ocean City, N.J.for a weekend at the shore. We match our calendars months in advance. As the date gets closer, we start watching the weather forecast. We drive down on Saturday morning and return after church and lunch on Sunday.

Each year there is only one thing that stands between us and Ocean City: the traffic. When we first began making the trip we estimated the time based on the miles. We could either go through Philadelphia on I-76 to the Atlantic City Expressway, or, we could take the Pennsylvania Turnpike north of Philadelphia and pick up the New Jersey Turnpike and from there go to the Atlantic City Expressway.

Even with GPS, our dilemma is not easily solved. We soon learned that we weren’t the only ones with the idea to go to the shore for the weekend. The first few times we were “nibbled to death” by the traffic. It just about ruined our weekend because we didn’t want to be late.

The last few years we agreed on a solution: leave earlier. If we drove out of town by 8:00 am we should reasonably make the 95-mile trek to Ocean City by noon. This would even give us time to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts in Phoenixville and Ron’s Garden Shop at the rest stop on the Atlantic City Expressway. Finally, we discovered a way to keep the nibbling ducks at bay.

Whether it is a stone in our shoe or a long line at the bank, how easy it is to allow little things to nibble us to death. The other day I dropped a bottle of flavored water while carrying it from our car to the house. The top broke open as it rolled down our driveway spilling its contents all the way from my feet to the grass. I was determined not to let that duck nibble me.

Marlys Kingsriter is one of our long-time friends. She and her husband, Del, were missionaries to East Africa. She recently sent me some great sayings that resemble this duck nibbling topic. I really liked this anonymous one, “Life is only traveled once. Today’s moments become tomorrow’s memory. Enjoy every moment, good or bad, because the gift of life is life itself.”  

When we can even make big things seem bigger than they are, I am always challenged by the following exercise:
  • Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
  • Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.
  • Name 10 people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
  • Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
  • Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners.
Ducks can even nibble on big things. Eventually, though, the applause dies, awards tarnish, achievements are forgotten and accolades and certificates are buried with their owners. I thought of this during all of the reflections on the passing of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers. Their influence was huge but even for them their impact will hardly be remembered beyond this generation. 

Sometimes Evie says, “How important will it be five years from now? It barely matters today.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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