Moving on is a very difficult thing. Most of us do it with varying degrees of grace and awkwardness accompanied by a perplexing mixture of grief and relief.
We all knew that Austin would release the red-tailed hawk he trained back into the wild. We also knew that it would happen sometime between the end of hunting season in March and his departure for college in August. That's how falconry works. You trap an immature bird, feed, house, train and hunt it, with the goal of returning it to the breeding population.
Austin prepared to release his red-tailed hawk a couple of days before his high school graduation. Outside the training season, hawks pretty much revert to their natural and wild state. That means that they are less cooperative, more aggressive, and don't particularly care to be handled by humans in any way. Austin went into the mews at night to get his bird ready for transport the next morning. He knew the hawk could be difficult to manage, and hoped that darkness and the probability of the bird being asleep, would give him at least some advantage.
No one knew how long the preparations would take, or how difficult handling the bird might be. We were all surprised to see Austin back inside the house in a matter of minutes. For some reason, Jason the hawk had stepped onto Austin's long leather glove as he would have during the most intense periods of training. He went into his transport hood easily.
The next morning, we drove Austin and the bird to a place about five miles from our house. Again, Jason stepped onto the glove. Austin maneuvered the bird into a position that enabled him to cut off the leather anklets and jesses he had made to tether or leash him when necessary. He put the hawk onto the ground, and then watched as he flew up and circled us, then perched in a nearby tree. The bird looked at Austin intently, as if it was just another hunt and he was waiting for direction. We stood there for while, then walked back to the car. When I started the ignition, we saw him fly away. He was free.
The relationship between a bird of prey and a falconer isn't reciprocal. A hawk never develops any genuine affection for the falconer. He just uses the falconer to maintain his relationship to a year or two's worth of easy meals. You know that going in. But the intense and sustained time investment that caring for a bird of prey demands does tend to bond the falconer to his hawk. That says something about what it means to be human. Letting go of the bird, though, says even more.
Later that day, I asked Austin how he felt. His response was thoughtful: "Things are as they should be." I'm sure releasing the bird brought some sadness to Austin as it did for the rest of us. I certainly miss seeing the hawk perched and peering into my bedroom window every morning, even if I won't miss having frozen mice being delivered to our house. But Austin is right. His time with this bird is complete. Returning him to the wild is what success looks like. Things are, in fact, as they should be.
Moving on is a very difficult thing. Most of us do it with varying degrees of grace and awkwardness accompanied by a perplexing mixture of grief and relief. Yet, for things to be as they truly ought, every one of us needs to learn the art of letting go, even letting go with joy. Children grow up; jobs and neighborhoods and parishes change; that is how things are meant to be. Life is full of movement and growth. Only dead things remain the same.
When we're stuck and find it hard to move or move on, we can look to God for help. God promises to be with us, not bound to a single place, but as we journey and along the way. Our God longs to help us be truly free. He wants us to remain with him, but not remain where we are or as we are. Accepting the gifts that are often hidden in the losses we suffer brings us to a place where we can be as we should be.
JAYMIE STUART WOLFE IS A WIFE AND MOTHER OF EIGHT CHILDREN, AND A DISCIPLE OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. SHE IS AN INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR, SPEAKER, MUSICIAN AND SERVES AS A CHILDREN'S EDITOR AT PAULINE BOOKS AND MEDIA.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.