“It’s almost time for you to leave the nest,” he nearly shouts at me over the sound of the music. I imagine that every other father and daughter dancing around us are having their own version of this same cheesy conversation.
The coral-colored skirt of my dress ripples as I pull away just enough to make sure he can see me dramatically roll my eyes at the cliché.
“No, don’t do that. Hear me out,” he says, “It is. It’s time for you to leave the nest, and you know what I’ve decided?”
“I think you’re an Eagle.”
“Why is that?”
“Because eagles fly alone.”
“You know, most people would find that analogy to be pretty depressing,” I laugh and look down at my bare feet moving in step with his black shoes.
“But you don’t,” he smiles and waits for me to look back up at him before continuing, “The other thing about eagles, the other thing that I think is important to note, is the other birds can’t really screw with them.”
“Because eagles are bigger?”
“Kind of, but kind of not,” he shrugs, “Eagles can fly at a height that other birds can’t survive at. So, the crow will peck and pester the eagle, but the eagle doesn’t retaliate. It just keeps going higher until the crow can’t breathe.”
“Then the crow just gives up?”
“Yeah. It’s really the only option. Eagles are aggressors, but they are aggressors that know their own abilities enough to know how to handle enemies without changing their own course. They know who is and is not worth their energy, and they just rise above those determined to take them down. So, you’re my Eagle. You fly alone because you can fly above. I hope you never feel the need come down from your highest points to fight off those who can’t even reach you.”
I recently watched a documentary about the rehabilitation of a wounded eagle.
It shattered me.
It shattered me because this bird, this fierce and independent creature that seemed so confident in flight, was so insecure when it was stranded on the ground, inhibited by a broken wing.
It shattered me because the eagle was put in this cage that gave it adequate room to maneuver, but this scared bird still hid in a corner and refused to move. It stayed as far away from the world as it could seem to get.
It shattered me because the eagle, this creature that never needed anything besides itself, now needed these people, these dorky humans in safari gear, if it wanted to survive. It was no longer enough for its own needs.
It shattered me because from the time this bird learned how to fly, there was never a time that it couldn’t, until now.
It shattered me because the eagle, perhaps one of the most fearless creatures in the world, was horrified, vulnerable… and that must have felt so foreign to it.
It shattered me because I was my dad’s eagle.
It shattered me because recently, I feel like that eagle.
During this season of grief and loss, I’ve struggled to fly, and in that struggle I feel a little less like myself. That’s a hard thing to process. It’s hard to feel a change in yourself that you never made the decision to pursue. It’s weird to spend your life seeking to fly, determined to reach heights where you have the luxury to discern when to just fly higher and when to actually fight, and then finding that suddenly, you’re horrified to do either.
It’s weird to revert back to being scared of the the crows because you’re not confident that you can out-fly them in your broken state.
It’s weird to find yourself crouching pathetically in the corner of a cage.
The fact is, I don’t always recognize myself in this grief, and I hate that.
I don’t recognize myself as an eagle if I can’t even fly.
I don’t recognize myself when I’m wounded, timid, tired, because this isn’t the person I worked so diligently to become. But it is my current reality, and it’s one that really can’t be avoided.
But the cool thing is, other’s do recognize me, even in a battered state.
So many around me still see me. They see the girl that my dad saw all those years ago as he danced with me at senior prom. They still see the girl that I’m working so hard to find again. Because a broken wing didn’t make the eagle any less of an eagle, and a broken soul doesn’t make us any less of ourselves. Where I saw myself as a pathetic bird in the corner, the people who love me saw an eagle that just needed a little bit of care. When I refused to leave my cage, no one made me, and that was essential to my recovery.
People don’t force wounded people out of the safety of their corner. At least the good ones don’t. Mine didn’t. Instead, my people dared to crawl into my cage with me for a bit. They helped me treat my wounds in the place that I felt safest. And in these immense and important acts of love that I witnessed in my team, I realized that some people want to help, not just because they love you, but because they respect the way that you fly. Sometimes, they not only want to love you back to health, but also back into flight.
And sometimes, that’s what you need. Sometimes, you have to open your world, your cage, your vulnerability up to others if you ever want to see the sky again.
Sometimes you have to stay in the cage to heal, and let others chase away the crows for a bit, just until you can out-fly them again.
Sometimes, you just need others.
Beautiful girl, I hope you find that you, too, are an eagle. I hope you learn to fly above rather than tussle below your own threshold. And when the time is right, I hope you learn how to fly alone, and I hope you choose to do that sometimes, at least for a little bit.
These skills bode well. They’ve carried me through a lot.
But as I write to you from the ground, as I write to you from what I hope is the near-completion of my own restoration period, I can guarantee that no matter where you go in this life, you will face a season where you are bound by a broken wing.
You will face a season where, you too, will need to rely on more than just yourself if you ever want to take flight again.
This thought is scary, and this season is horrifying. It might leave you in the corner of your cage.
I’m not going to advise that you come out of the cage before you heal a bit. I sure as heck didn’t. I see the crows out there. But maybe, just maybe, allow others into it.
Maybe, just maybe, recognize the fact that you’re wounded, admit it. Maybe even take a second to look at the wound. It’s not pretty. It won’t be your favorite part of you by any means. But it is a part of you, at least for now. Maybe, just maybe, show yourself grace in that.
Maybe, just maybe, let others help you treat it.
You are going to fly again.
I know that.
Because… oh yeah, this is the best part…
At the end of the documentary the eagle flew again. It took a lot of physical therapy, and it had to relearn how to do it all, but they released it back into the wild, and it busted into flight as though it was never on the ground in the first place. This alone, would be an ending worth sharing, but I noticed something else, something discreet, so discreet that no one even said anything about it. It just showed up in a clip alongside the ending credits.
The Eagle was flying alongside of others.