I have a thing for bald eagles. My affection began on a cold March morning on the island of Kodiak, Alaska. I was working. I’d just gotten off a small plane from Anchorage and I was driving to a small local hospital for a surgical case. As I drove my rental car in the icy, early dawn, down a narrow, two-lane road dug into the mountain side, I saw a few bald eagles fly in front of me. I followed their path up the mountain where they perched on a bare tree. As my eyes focused, I realized there were hundreds of eagles perched in the trees. When I looked back down the mountain toward the shore, I saw a cannery where even more bald eagles were swarming like the seagulls do on the shores of the city I call home. The surprise of seeing so many of these relatively rare birds swooping and flying above made me giddy with laughter. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was positively awe-struck.
There’s a bald eagle who regularly sits like a sentinel on a street light over the one of the long floating bridges in Seattle. I saw him there often the last two years on my way to writing class at the University of Washington. I named him George. George became my talisman. As I began to cross the bridge each week I’d say, “okay, if I see George today then what I’m feeling is right, and if I don’t see George, then what I’m feeling is horse shit.” There’s a 50/50 chance I’m going to see George.
Eagles have no real predators. They’re at the top of their food chain. They are powerful, graceful, majestic, stoic animals. They represent freedom; the very reason they are our nation’s symbol. In the winters, and during migrations, eagles are solitary animals. But in the spring, when it’s time to mate, they return to the same nest, the same mate, year after year. They are monogamous. The dads even stick around to co-parent the babies. Mama eagle and daddy eagle share the duties of feeding and defending the nest for about six weeks, that’s when they literally push their babies out. Six weeks, then push. I would be the world’s best mother if it only took six weeks to raise babies with equal help from their father AND I got winters off. Seriously. Best. Eagle Mom. Ever.
But the hardest part about being an eagle mama would be the push. Imagine. You’re perched on a cliff side or the top of the tallest tree – you have your two, skinny babes who you’ve basically just given birth to and kept alive for six weeks – and they’ve never spread their wings, not even once. Yet, you must hurl them from the nest and hope they fly. Now, imagine you’re the baby eagle. You’ve never flown, and suddenly, your loving mother picks you up with her massive claws and tosses you overboard, six, seven, eight stories from the ground with nothing but air and faith to hold you up. Pretty harsh.
As a mother of a newly minted Kindergartener and 1st time pre-schooler, I have done some pushing. Each time I have to let go, I hold my breath and pray. I wonder if mama eagles feel the same way? But if I’m honest, at the same time – in the wild, chaos of a messy divorce – I feel like the child who is falling. Many days I feel like I’m descending with nothing but air and faith to make me believe I have wings.
I suppose eagles would never really know the majesty and privilege of being an eagle until they discover their wings… I suppose my babies won’t either… and neither will I… and maybe none of us ever would. It’s only learning to use our wings that allows us to know the freedom of flying.
But oh, The Push. It is the most agonizing thing, and yet, at the very same time… it feels like the greatest act of love. As if maybe there’s balance in this messy, messed up mess. Like the ecstasy of flying BEGINS with the fear of falling, and the hardest things in life contain the GREATEST amounts of love.
Will we ever stop being pushed from our safe homes and off the cliffs of life? If we’re never forced to rely on faith, will we stop being faithful? Will we forget we’re eagles if we don’t use our wings? Is that the point of it all? Learning to fly and then teaching others how to fly, too?
Tell me George. Is what I’m feeling right?