|Want to fly like a hawk? All it takes is a few feathers.|
by Thomas Walsh
Mato was so proud of his new wings! It seemed like forever before they finally grew out. All his life, he sadly watched the other hawks happily flying here and there while he was stuck on the ground. He could not understand what was taking so long. The old owl kept reassuring Mato, telling him to just be patient. His mother always tried to be supportive while his father would simply growl whenever he asked about his wings. But now, at last, he had his wings!
Odd thing about his father’s growl, though. None of the hawks circling above ever growled. In fact, he could not recall ever seeing either of his parents flying. Whenever he asked them why they never fly, his mother would just smile and his father would just, well, growl. And so, year after year, everything stayed the same, nothing changed, and Mato kept on hoping and wishing for his wings so he could fly high like the other hawks.
One warm summer evening, just after a light rain, Mato was walking past the tree where the old owl sat on a low branch. Several hawks were sitting on another branch near the owl. As Mato was passing below him, the old owl called out,
“Hey, Mato, you still want to fly?” The hawks snickered but said nothing.
“Oh, yes! I do! I am the only hawk who still cannot fly”, Mato answered. The hawks snickered again but said nothing.
“Well, today is your lucky day”, the old owl said. “I happen to have two of the finest hawk feathers you ever laid eyes on, and I saved them just for you.” The hawks were shaking a little and snickering a little louder but still said nothing.
Mato’s round, black eyes opened wide. “For me? What do they do?”
“What do they do?” the old owl repeated in mock surprise. “Why, once these feathers are placed on you, they become full wings and you will finally be flying just like the other hawks here!” The hawks were having a hard time controlling themselves now but still managed to say nothing.
“Oh, yes, yes! Please put them on me, right now! Please!” Mato could scarcely believe his wishes were finally about to come true. The hawks had their heads under their wings and shaking so hard they looked like they would fall off the branch, but Mato paid them no mind. He was thinking of nothing else but those feathers.
So the old owl flew down to the ground with the two feathers in his beak. He dipped the first feather into the mud from the rain, and stuck it deep into the fur on Mato’s right side. Then he dipped the second feather into the mud, and stuck it deep into the fur on Mato’s left side. And there they were, two long hawk feathers jutting majestically out of Mato’s thick, black fur.
His eyes could not possibly have gotten any wider. His mouth could not possibly have opened any larger. He finally had his wings! He would finally be able to fly just like the other hawks!
“Not now”, said the old owl, “You cannot fly yet. You have to give them a few days to grow into wings. In the meantime, be careful that you do not let them fall out or you will never have wings. Understand?”
“Oh, I will be careful, you betcha,” Mato assured him. “I won’t let anything happen to these feathers. Thank you so much! You are the best friend I ever had!” The old owl winced a bit at those words but only said, “You go back home now, hear? Take good care of those feathers and soon you will have the time of your life.”
Mato could hardly wait to get home and show his parents! They would be so happy for him!
[To be continued.....]
Mato’s mother smiled when she saw his wings and gave him a hug while being careful to not disturb his new feathers. His father, though, growled louder and longer than he ever had before, then stormed into the den. Why was he so angry? Mato did not understand.
The next morning, he walked proudly through the woods, head held high, showing off his new feathers. He told everyone that in a few days he would be flying through the trees and skies with all the other hawks. Everyone smiled and said how happy they were for him. They said he will be the finest hawk in the world!
This went on for the next few days. The feathers still had not become full wings yet but Mato was not discouraged. What difference would a few more days make? In the meantime, everyone still accepted him as a hawk. No one dared to say anything differently. One of the other walkers on the ground did start to tell Mato something about his wings that was not nice, but the others quickly bared their teeth and drove that one away. All the while, the hawks in the trees kept snickering and said nothing.
Finally, the big day came! Mato arose from his restless sleep and stretched. His muscles ached like he had been sleeping for months. Then he turned his head and gasped in surprise and delight. His feathers had grown into two beautiful wings while he slept! He could not contain his joy! Today was the day he would fly at last! Mato looked for his parents but they were nowhere to be found. So he raced out the door and through the woods to the tallest tree in the forest. He started to reach for the first low branch when suddenly he noticed something with thick, black fur already sitting on it. He stopped. There was something familiar about the creature.
“Hello”, he said. No answer.
“Hello”, he repeated. This time the creature opened one eye and looked at Mato.
“Who are you?”, the creature asked him.
“My name is Mato”, he replied.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?”, the creature asked.
“Up the tree so I can jump off and fly for the first time”, said Mato, proudly.
“How are you going to fly? You are not a bird, and you are certainly too fat and heavy to fly.”
“That is not true!”, Mato said, extending his wings. “See? I am a hawk and these are my wings. Everyone says they are the finest wings in the whole world!”
The creature let out an enormous laugh. It laughed so hard that it fell off the branch and landed on the ground. Up in the trees and skies, the hawks were laughing, too.
“Having hawk wings, even magical ones, doesn’t make you a hawk”, the creature insisted. “But go ahead. Climb up and show me how you can fly.”
And climb he did. Mato climbed up the tree to the highest branch, higher than he had ever climbed before. The hawks were circling him, watching him, and this time they were not snickering. Gathering up all his courage, Mato spread his new wings as far as they could go. Taking a deep breath, Mato jumped into the air.
For a moment, everything was still. Nothing moved, as if the whole world held its breath, waiting to watch him fly.
Then it happened.
Mato dropped straight down, hitting every branch until he slammed into the ground. His beautiful new wings were broken in several places. He hurt everywhere. Mato didn’t move for several minutes. The whole community gathered around to see if he was dead. Then he slowly sat up and started to cry.
The creature was laughing again. When at last it stopped, it said to him in a serious tone, “I told you that you are not a hawk, didn’t I? But you would not listen.”
“But I did listen!”, Mato cried. “Everyone agreed with me that I was a hawk. Well, except for my father. I don’t understand.”
“Everyone told you what you wanted to hear because they were afraid to tell you the truth. They were afraid of being called hateful. Being a bird and flying takes more than just having some of the body parts. Even with those magical wings that the old owl gave you, you are still the same cub you have always been. No one can change who and what he was at birth, no matter how much he insists he is something else or how many others encourage him. Accept and love who you really are, who you were born to be.”
When it finished speaking, the creature vanished. Everyone drifted away and never again called the small bear a hawk. Mato sat motionless for a long time, thinking about his failure to fly and what the creature had said. He knew now that it spoke the truth. Deep inside he always knew the truth. He was a bear, not a bird. All of his pretending and demanding that everyone else pretend with him could never change that simple fact.
After awhile, Mato raised his battered body and bruised ego off the ground and stood up. He pulled the broken, useless wings off his body and tossed them into the bushes. He looked up at the tree, sadly shook his head, and painfully limped back home.
And in the trees the real hawks were cheering.
THE ENDThomas Walsh