Breakfast with eagles



One morning, I was watching the sun rise over Lake Barkley. Sunrise usually brings me joy; but as the air lightened that particular morning, I saw with a sinking heart that a macabre drama was playing out over the lake. Two bald eagles were gliding in an ominous circle around a duckling that had been inexplicably left alone in the water. After a few minutes of gliding silkily overhead, one of the eagles suddenly swooped down toward the little duck like a missile. The duckling bobbed under the surface of the water just in time to avoid the eagle’s talons. I wanted the show to be over then; but of course, it wasn’t.

The duckling popped back up for air, and the other eagle swooped. Perched up high behind a wall of windows in a lakefront condo, I watched the eagles take turns swooping down on the little duck as it bobbed frantically in and out of the water. I wanted to leave that terrible scene, but I couldn’t budge. I felt like I was nailed in place. I always have to stay to the end even when I know I will hate it. It’s a compulsion I have had my entire life – a chronic inability to walk away from suffering or to pretend it doesn’t exist.

So, I stayed.

Within a few minutes, the drama was over. The sun had risen in fuchsia glory and was casting pink light over the undisturbed surface of the water. On the shore, under a tree with leaves that were newly unfurled, a bald eagle was eating its breakfast.

Early in life, I was taught that it was human sin that caused all the suffering in the world, but I never believed it. The lightning strike that killed my seven-year-old cousin was not manmade, nor was the leukemia that slowly killed both the daughter and the grandchild of our neighbors across the street. I was very young when I realized that, although some suffering was caused by human behavior, the vast majority of it was just a side effect of life. Suffering was neither inherently good nor inherently bad; it was just there like the bee that stung me when I stepped on it. I limped around for a few hours, and the squashed bee died. Both of us were wild ideas that came to life through the same beautiful and bizarre plan, and both of us were also the innocent victims of it.

It was not my mission to save the duckling. It was my mission to be the love that stayed with it to the end. Because somewhere deep inside I have always known that to be one with any creature in its fear and its pain is to be with all creatures and with all people in their suffering. It is to be part of an endless love that refuses to turn away.

In a way that I can’t explain, I have always known that the worst thing in the world is not to suffer, but to suffer alone – to be afraid and alone; to be in pain and alone; to be humiliated and alone. And so, I stay; and staying is the secret to my boundless faith in the love of God.

When I see a cross with the crucified Christ on it, I know deep in my spirit that He is not suffering for us, He is suffering with us. No matter how great our pain, how terrible our fear, how deep our grief or how bitter our humiliation, He is never going to turn away. He is the Eternally Present Love.

“I’m here with you, my beautiful beloved,” He says from the cross, “I see you.”

I have faith in an eternal love that bears all things not because I have been taught about it, but because I remain in it. I can attest to the fact that God’s love is always there because I am there to feel it flowing through me. I am there to watch it sink into the murky depths, and I am there to watch it rise on eagle’s wings.