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THE CRANE

    Once a crane passed the examinations to become a diplomat.
    It couldn’t be denied, of course, that the crane’s success (both in the examinations and in its illustrious career thereafter) owed much to family connections and timely political contributions. On the other hand, there was also broad agreement that the crane was a most distinguished-looking bird. It presented exactly the kind of stately, slow-motion approach to every move it made that inspires deep mutual esteem and a punctilious regard for the niceties of decorum among senior members of the diplomatic corps.
    In this spirit, the crane could often be observed spending long periods of time debating the most prudent placement of its feet. There were protocols to be followed, after all, and necessary formalities to be observed. Waters must be endlessly tested, with each step forward given exhaustive deliberation and constant rescrutiny. It was naive to think these sorts of considerations, even the apparently most trivial among them, could be curtailed or streamlined in any way. Perhaps in the unruly world of everyday life, but hardly in the measured, dignified footwork of high diplomacy.
    The same must be said with respect to the many gala receptions at which attendance was de rigueur for the crane. Night after night it could be seen suavely performing this duty, as if to the manner born, in the company of others occupied with weighty though often obscure responsibilities. Toasting one another while sampling platters of artfully arranged escargots and fingerling hors d’oeuvres, they might nod thoughtfully in agreement with solemn declarations on the order of “We find ourselves at a critical juncture and expect all interested parties to engage in a full and frank exchange of views on the substantive issues before us.” “Hear, hear!” the crane might be heard to pronounce in richly nuanced tones meant to signal a thorough understanding of the subtleties expressed, as it shifted ever so slowly from one foot to the other.
    Then again, it might say the same thing whenever it heard the familiar caution, “Those in positions of authority and influence must never move with undue haste, whatever the pressure of public opinion, lest their full and frank exchange of views result in unforeseen consequences and set delicate diplomatic overtures back many years.”
    “Hear, hear!”
    Its response could be an annoyed “tut tut,” however, to reports that those less schooled in the calibrated pace, perspectives, procedures, and protocols the crane was confident a smooth running of the world depended on were slaughtering each other across large swaths of it. “Diplomacy must succeed, we all fully recognize, in steering a steady course between conflicting interests in a manner that respects the interests of all parties concerned,” the crane would declare with a disapproving look down its long beak. “The alternative is simply unthinkable.”
    Every time such self-assured declarations in fact failed, every time the alternative became not only thinkable but disastrously real, the crane could be seen leaving troubled waters behind with an air of urbane ennui over the “regrettably shortsighted and counterproductive behavior” of assorted tyrants, thuggish fanatics, genocidal maniacs, ideological extremists, heedless profiteers, and all manner of other “destabilizing elements” at each other’s throats below. 
    During times of apparent underappreciation or else cynical disregard like this for the crane’s deft ministrations, it seriously considered the invitations regularly extended to take up a position fully recognizing and reflecting its many talents at the International Olympic Committee, the WTO, the World Bank, or some multinational cosmetics firm. But the crane always resolved, as it winged away, to answer for a while yet the grand summons of high-level statecraft. Whatever the setbacks, it remained “guardedly optimistic,” convinced the world would be much worse off without skies full of cranes like itself flying hither and thither.
    The next place it came down, more attention would have to be devoted to the prudent placement of its feet was all.