Recently, I heard two songs with one line in each of them that crystallized an old memory and symbolized a connection for me that was just lying under the surface. The line from the first song was by Tim McGraw, “Live Like You were Dying”:
and I watched an eagle as it was flying
The line from the second song was John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”:
I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
My first recollection was a spring break many years ago back in college where a buddy of mine and I went camping at Greers Ferry Lake near Heber Springs, Arkansas. The place was deserted because it was before the tourist season started. We drove to this little mountain just outside of town called Sugarloaf Mountain. It was a little mountain, more of a big hill really. The top of the mountain was capped with a vertical rock outcropping about 50 to 70 feet high, and on top of that was a mound of dirt with dozens of pine trees. We followed the trail up to the rock outcropping and then shimmied up a big crack in the rock to the top.
Everything seemed to contrast and enhance each other: the deep azure blue of the sky with the small puffy-white cotton ball clouds dotted here and there, the rough grayness of the rock with the softness of the rich brown soil, the lush green pine needles with the coarseness of the dark brown bark, the warm rays of the sun with the coolness of the breeze. My senses were alive to everything.
And then, to top it off, a family of hawks started circling around the mountain top. They flew out next to us at eye level just yards away, then circled above us, swooping so close that we could almost reach out our arms and touch them, and then down and around below our perch on top of the rock outcropping. In that sacramental moment, time stood still for me, but in reality, it must have lasted only ten minutes or so. It was an awesome experience.
Hearing those lines from those two songs brought back that memory. And for a moment, I could close my eyes and be back on top of that mountain. But the fuel of my imagination only lasts so long and the Now seeped back into my mind. Part of me longed to be back on that mountain top, but only for a brief moment. Then I realized something very special that I think I have always known, but just could not verbalize, or find the proper metaphor.
I see majestic eagles and hawks fly around me everyday in my students, my friends, my family. The beauty and grace that I see in their eyes, in their smiles, in their love for others and for me, and whether they know it or not, in their love for God, is even more beautiful than watching those hawks fly around that mountain top so long ago.
What makes me a little sad at times is that many of them, especially my students, sometimes think they are chickens and not eagles. At the same time, I am happy because I know this is part of the process of growing, of maturing in faith and life. Sometimes I just want to shake them. I want to hug them. I want to scream and whisper in their ears, “You are beautiful! You are a gift from God. I thank Him everyday that you are in my life at this point in time. You are an eagle! So fly like one. Get up and soar in the beauty and goodness of the world!” If they could only see what I see…
Those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles…
— Isaiah 40:31