Monday, August 04, 2008

Flying lessons

Was it the baby’s first flight? It was a very young gull, dark grey against the gathering gloom, perched on the rooftop. It should not stay there throughout the night as it would be too dangerous. The young bird was hungry and, every so often, would open its beak and utter a plaintive note very unlike any sound from its attendant mother, For her part, she was anxiously trying to encourage her offspring to make the effort to fly, but the baby was too scared. For sure, it did open its wings and extend them a little, but no wider than as for a practice, something it would have done in the nest.

The mother perched a short distance along the roof, uttering encouraging sounds, repeating the same noises again and again. She tried to give flying lessons, launching herself from the roof and circling around her obstinate and frightened chick. When that did not work, she moved to the other end of the roof and once again attempted to give instructions in a quiet, gentle tone, but her offspring would have none of her teaching.

The young bird stubbornly refused to do anything other than cry a strange, squeaky cry. It, too, knew that it must move. A rooftop, even that of the chapel, was not a good place for a nocturnal roosting place.

The mother became increasingly agitated. There was so little that she could do. Her watchful head moved ceaselessly, looking out for danger. At this time of evening, none of the local hawks would attempt to tackle a young gull, especially with its mother standing guard, but might an owl try something? Was it still early enough for a crow to have a snack?

Squealing plaintively, the youngster decided to stand up, rather than crouch against the roof tiles. That was progress! It flexed its left wing, extending it almost to its full span. Standing one-legged for a moment on its left leg, the chick shook it slightly, but, stubbornly, it intended to do that and nothing further. Within seconds, it was motionless once more.

The mother gull stood patiently, still encouraging her youngster with a quiet twittering sound. Suddenly the young bird stretched out both wings and began flapping them once or twice, but still with no serious intention of moving. Yet it was a step in the right direction. Once or twice, it looked down the roof and made as if to launch itself into the air, but no. The youngster was still too scared…and with every minute that passed, the evening was drawing in.

The adult was beginning to lose patience. She flew off, leaving her chick alone. It nearly did the trick. The youngster fluttered its wings again, but still would not fly.

Time ticked on. The young gull had been standing on the chapel roof for three-quarters of an hour. It started to call its parent, but she did not reappear. Other gulls soared overhead and continued on their way towards Liverpool Bay, only a few miles away. The youngster stood almost motionless, looking very lonely as the darkness deepened.

Yet, as night drew closer, the mother reappeared. She perched herself a couple of yards away from her offspring and stayed there throughout the night. It was only as the sun began to appear over the horizon that she left… and this time, with her child.

There was a curious fascination in watching the two birds in what was an unfolding parable. Was not the female gull behaving like God, staying close, encouraging, not forcing, teaching and, finally, liberating? Are not you and I the youngster, timid, stubborn, testing, independent and yet also terribly in need of support, fragile and yet with an inner strength? With a little help and support, the baby could fly.

With God’s help, so can I…

God bless,
Sr. Janet