Sunday, August 02, 2009

on the wings of eagles

I was trying to remember when I first saw a frigate bird. Late 60s in the Caribbean, I think.

I may not remember when it was, but I remember what I thought at the time. The same thing you did when you saw your first one: It's a pterodactyl (or pterosaur, for you purists).

Of course, it wasn't. Unless Raquel Welch was also there, I would have been rabbit-late by just a few millennia.

They are everywhere on the Melaque beach -- usually flying in avian gangs with their colors of black and white -- as if Sally Fields had taken on Cretaceous garb.

They are most interesting when they spot a bait ball. That happened this afternoon. The birds repeatedly dived at the surface of the ball, picking off fish after fish, and attracting every frigate bird and pelican in the bay.

It is quite an impressive sight while they are over the water. But, inevitably, the action moves to land.

Frigate birds have the eating etiquette of three-year olds. They drop a lot, and, what they do not drop, their fellow frigates try to snatch.

Sunday was a big tourist day on the beach. The bait ball and the feeding frenzy had caught everybody's attention. As the smorgasbord moved above the sand, the small children on the beach looked up in horror -- and, to a child, began running and screaming. Perhaps, imagining all of those well-intentioned tales of the bad child, who was taken away by eagles.

And they were not calmed by the frigates swooping among them to pick up the ever-diminishing miracle of fishes.

I have been counseling a young person who is about to head off to a first job away from home--with the same fears that any of us had when we took that step. Will they like me? Will I succeed? What happens if it doesn't work out?

I have the advantage of being a friend, as opposed to being a parent. No parent wants to see one of their children get hurt in the ways we have been hurt, to make the same mistakes we have made -- even though we know it will happen.

As a friend, I have the luxury of saying that, even though success is great, we often learn more from our failures than from our successes. And we need to be able to fail to learn how to succeed in life. That is one of the steps on the road from child to adult.

Edwin O'Connor's narrator in The Edge of Sadness, Father Hugh Kennedy, suffers a terrible crisis of faith leading to alcoholism. He eventually returns to his priestly duties, shorn of his youthful ideals, but with a new optimism based on reality:

While something was over forever, something else had just begun -- and that if the new might not seem the equal of the old, that might be because the two were not to be compared . . . that something might be ahead that grew out of the past, yes, but was totally different, with its own labors and rewards, that it might be deeper and fuller and more meaningful than anything in the past.

How would Father Kennedy have counseled the children on the beach? I suspect, he would do the same thing that their parents did -- hug their children and assure them that the birds would not harm them.

Because, sometimes, that is the best we can do.


American Mommy in Mexico said...

Sounds like a frightening scene ... might scare me too.

Julian in SC said...

Funny, I've never heard the term "bait ball" used before. We just referred to it as a "school" going by that the osprey and pelicans would love to dive bomb over and over again.

Steve Cotton said...

AMM -- Naw. You would have pulled out the camera and taken a photograph -- of the backs of the birds.

Julian -- I picked up the phrase from my brother, the fisher.

Anonymous said...

As mom of 19 years old college student,Well understood of your hidden meaning..
Thanks for the writing.

Steve Cotton said...

Min -- De nada.