Born to Fly

To all the Young Hawks & the Older Ones who haven’t forgotten,

In Tucson, I used to live in a house on River Road. The back porch had a view of the Catalina Mountains — the same mountains that had seduced and captured me on my first scouting trip to the Southwest! I told myself as the sun set, illuminating the words “purple mountain majesty”, that if I ever stopped appreciating these mountains, it would be “time for me to go”. Fortunately, it was time for me to go before I ever stopped appreciating their beauty.

River is a stretch of road that is magical, and winds along the Rialto River, and thus its name. I had a view of Finger Rock, a rock formation at the top of the mountain that looks like a finger pointing towards the sky and the heavens that lay beyond them. For you cinema buffs, it can be seen in the opening scene of “Lilies of the Field” starring Sydney Poitier, a classic and one of my favorite films.

I would sit out on this porch every morning and read, meditate, and reflect. It was a bit of a ritual with me. There was a magnificent tree, standing alone with majesty and grace, on the horizon of our home. In the desert, you come to respect anything that can survive and thrive in such a hot, prickly, and hostile environment.

In due time, I became aware of two hawks who had built a nest at the apex of this tree. I would watch as they would rise in the morning, sit at the edge of their nest, much like me, and prepare for their day. Then they would lurch out into flight, be gone for the day, and come home in the evening with the prey that nourished them. It wasn’t long before two baby hawks peaked their heads over the ridge of the nest. By the way, these two hawks were very discreet, so I was surprised when the young ones appeared on the scene.

New life changed the chemistry of the nest. There was more urgency in seeking prey. They left earlier and came home later to quiet the hungry chirpings of their persistent offspring. Often in the early morning hours, it would just be me and the Father Hawk on our respective porches, looking, seeing, and understanding one another! I once gave him the modern two finger salutation. You know, where you take your “peace sign” fingers and point them back and forth between your eyes and the eyes of the one with whom you feel a kinship. I swear he moved his wings, but couldn’t quite return the gesture.

Then one day, a shocking event occurred. The Mother and Father Hawks began harassing the two young hawks. They had always been patient as they loved, nurtured, and cared for the hungry little birds. But now they seemed to be aggressively pushing them out of the nest. As I looked closer, I saw that these two fine feathered babies weren’t babies any more. It was time for them to learn to fly!

I felt compassion for the two flightless dependents and the parents who had to force then beyond the boundaries of their comfort zone. But I knew in my heart that it was love that was behind this very natural but somewhat painful process.

One of the young hawks couldn’t take the harassment anymore and one morning tried to fly. It wasn’t pretty. Flapping its wings vigorously it went nowhere and hit every branch on its way down toward the ground. The last branch broke its fall and that hawk clung to that branch and didn’t move an inch. It sat there, in what I assumed was utter terror, for three days. On the third day, it rose up and was able to fly back up to the nest. She and her brother eventually learned to fly. They started to bring back their own prey and eventually left the nest altogether.

After the turmoil of this great natural drama had quieted, the Father and I returned to our morning ritual of communion with each other, and the glorious Universe that had birthed us both.

One day I came home and this noble tree had been cut down. I felt grief for the tree that was such a stoic reminder of beauty and grace thriving in a hostile environment. But also for the lives that it supported and the relationship that had been forged by our common experience of life, survival, responsibility, and, most of all, love. Love, in all its aspects of caring, sheltering, and nourishing, but also in the more difficult aspect, where we push the ones we love to fly for themselves. It may seem that we are hard hearted or have abandoned them altogether, but this is the natural story of change, growth, and progress within the Creation. It always has been, and always will be!

It is your destiny to fly! If you fall and are hurt, disappointed, or terrified, it’s okay. Take some time to recover, but don’t give up! Even if they take away everything you thought was supporting you, take to the skies, carry on, soar, survive, and thrive!

Somewhere in Tucson, I believe those two young hawks still cry freedom from the sky. When you hear them, remember this story, and that you were born to fly!

Under the same sky, -Si Gong

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