Little One and the Eagle (Or, What Really Keeps Us Safe)


Following is the sixth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

Little One was worried.

It had started to rain a lot. He was afraid that their supplies would be ruined if the rain got in, so he spent hours covering their packs with resin from pine trees.

The storms had brought lots of lightening as well. He was concerned a fire would start if a tree was hit, so he packed up all their things at night and put them under his head. That way if there was a fire, he could grab them quickly before they ran.

He heard noises in the trees at dusk and feared there were wild animals nearby getting hungry. He started to wake himself up in the middle of the night to keep watch with a knife so that nothing could attack them once the fire got low.

He was worried they weren’t making good time. Though they walked from sunup until sundown, often at a tiring pace, Little One could sense the summer getting ready to turn into fall. He knew that once the snows came, they could trap them in these mountains where they would starve without food and water.

So many things could go wrong.

Working so hard to keep them safe and on track was exhausting.  Just this morning he had fallen asleep as he was checking (and re-checking) the map he found at the City of the Children of the Serpent God. He was trying to decide whether to go high on the mountain and risk lightening or stay low by the river and risk flooding when all of a sudden he heard Ginger call his name gently.

“What?” he asked, irritated at the interruption.

“You fell asleep again,” she said. “Why don’t you take some time to lie down and rest?”

“No,” he said, standing up and folding the map. “We need to get going before the sun gets too hot. We don’t want anybody fainting from heatstroke.”

Ginger nodded her head. “Okay. But I really don’t think you need to keep watch tonight, Little One. The animals here aren’t the kind that attack humans.”

“I was almost killed once by a wild creature that surprised me in the night,” Little One said. “I’d really rather be safe than sorry.”

Ginger smiled. “Okay. Then let me do it. Let me keep watch tonight so you can sleep.”

Little One shook his head. “I appreciate it, but no thanks. I’d rather do it myself.”

Ginger shook her head. “Alright,” she said sadly. “Can I at least carry some of the supplies in your pack?” She gestured towards his bag, which was stuffed full of food, water, blankets, and firewood in case they couldn’t find any at their campsite tonight. Then she swept her hand towards her own, which was half empty on the ground.

“No, thanks,” Little One said grimly. “I’ve got it.”

They walked for a long time in silence.

Little One knew that Ginger was worried about him, and he sensed that she had a point. He was feeling more exhausted than he’d ever been in his life. Every time he sat down, he thought of something else he should be doing. When he got up to do it, he immediately felt guilty as he thought of three other things that were equally if not more important that he should have done already.

Even when he did lie down, it took him a long time to fall asleep because he was thinking through everything he needed to do the next day. His mind raced, his stomach tightened, and his breath got faster and faster as he lay there and realized he wasn’t going to have enough time to do everything he should.

No matter how much he did, there was always so much more to do.

He hadn’t always felt this way. It had started on their second day on the road together when Ginger was telling him stories she’d heard about their father, the Serpent God.

“The elders in my village told a story of how he came to live in a palace at the very top of the highest peak,” she said.

“In the beginning, the Serpent God lived in the mountains with all the other gods.  But after a while, he grew so tired of them coming to him to ask for favors that he built a separate palace for himself.  He hung it above the mountains and made it invisible to everyone, even the other gods.

“They say he guards his gates with fierce storms and lightning that incinerate anyone who tries to knock at his door,” Ginger said breathlessly. “The storms, like the palace, are invisible to most.  But one type of person can see the lightning, which the elders say is lit with all the colors of the rainbow.

“Because the Serpent God wanted one type of person to find him, he made his rainbow lightning visible only to a special group—his children.  They say he waits in his palace day after day waiting for one of them to find him.”

Little One was quiet as he considered this. They walked in silence around a bend in the path and then came upon a fork in the road. One branch led up a steep ravine while the other followed a creek around the base of a large mountain.

A spark lit in Little One’s chest as he realized which path he wanted to take. “I want to find his palace,” he told Ginger. “Let’s take the one that goes up.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Ginger said and smiled.

Little One was excited. He had so many questions he wanted answers to, about how he had been conceived, why he had been called to this journey, and what his secret gifts and talents were. He knew his father could give him the answers. Maybe he could even tell him what he was supposed to be doing on this journey to make it all worthwhile. Little One wanted to know so badly that his stomach ached when he thought of it.

Ever since that moment, images of things going wrong came unbidden to his mind: of him and Ginger getting lost and wandering the mountains for years without ever finding their father’s home; of one of them falling off the side of the path where it got steep and dropped off; of getting drowned, eaten, or burned alive and never crossing the threshold of their father’s house.

He hadn’t really had a destination in mind previously, so he hadn’t worried about getting there. Now that he knew where he was going, it became abundantly clear to him how very many things could prevent him from arriving.

They walked for a long time without talking. Then, as they were cresting a hill, Ginger suddenly stopped. She was looking up towards the sky.

“What is it?” Little One asked. He followed her gaze upwards and saw it: a giant eagle circling up above them.

“It’s beautiful,” Ginger said. “I used to study them, you know, back at the City. I was designing wings for those of us who don’t yet know how to fly. I wanted to learn from the best, so I started to study eagles. They’re incredibly strong and powerful, but they hardly exert themselves at all when they’re circling like that. They don’t flap, they don’t beat, they don’t effort. They just hang there. They let the air hold them up. It’s amazing.”

Little One lowered his gaze. “Yea, must be great to have hollow bones and lots of feathers,” he said. He stepped around Ginger and started walking along the path again. “Too bad we’re stuck with heavy skeletons and flesh and fat.”

“What do you mean?” Ginger called from behind as she tried to catch up.

“I mean it’s great for something like an eagle to not effort, but air alone isn’t exactly going to keep me from falling to my death, is it?”

“No, but it seems to me the earth is doing a pretty good job of that,” said Ginger wryly.

Just then a root caught Little One’s foot and he fell to his knees. Before he could catch himself, the weight of his heavy pack threw him face first towards the earth. His forehead hit the ground with a smack.

And then it kept going. Suddenly Little One found himself falling headlong into what looked like earth but felt like a pool of thick water. It gave way beneath him as he fell deeper and deeper into its blackness. He couldn’t breathe.

He felt the first stirrings of panic in his belly. He tried desperately to pull himself upright with his arms, but his backpack was too heavy and kept pushing him down.

He kicked his legs out to the sides and reached out with his arms, trying to find something solid to hold onto. It was useless. There was nothing but watery sand all around him. The panic extended from his belly into his chest and throat.

He tried twisting, flapping his arms, and curling himself into a ball, but the more he struggled, the faster he fell.

This was exactly the type of thing he had worried would happen. He almost smiled with bitterness as he realized that there was nothing in his heavy, thoroughly-prepared pack that could help him in this particular situation.

He felt the darkness getting deeper as his lungs screamed for oxygen. Knowing it would do no good, he still kicked his feet a few more times and reached to find something solid with his hands.

He couldn’t. He was falling fast now. Soon the blackness became all encompassing and he felt himself drifting to sleep.

*   *   *

He was floating above a mountain peak, deep blue sky embracing him from all sides.

He saw a valley far below him. He could make out small trees, boulders, and a river glinting in the sun.

The wind was cool on his skin and he felt the infinity of space extending all around him. The view was beautiful from up here. He felt light, relaxed and free.

Just as he began to enjoy himself, the wind slowed and he felt himself fall. His heart jumped into his throat and his muscles tensed.

But then, after a moment of freefall, he felt something sweep beneath him, pushing him higher again. It held him there, solid and unmoving.

This happened a few more times. Slowly understanding dawned on Little One. Soon it felt so obvious and clear to him that he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it before.

His body relaxed. All tension faded from his muscles. He stopped trying completely. He felt himself melt into the air beneath him, his mind as empty as the sky above him.

*   *   *

The light dimmed, the expansiveness shrunk, and his lungs were screaming once again. He was back in the watery pit.

Keeping his muscles relaxed, he stayed still. He was no longer falling. Barely moving, he easily slid his arms from his backpack. He felt light as a feather.

Just then he felt something tap his head. He reached up and grabbed hold of what felt like a thick rope with something tied to the end. With the last of his strength, he pulled himself up the rope enough to put the weight between his legs. Then he let go and all was black.

When he woke up, he was on his back and Ginger’s face was above his, her brows furrowed with concern.

“Why the long face, friend?” he croaked.

Ginger’s face broke into a smile and she clapped her hands. “You’re alright! Wait, you are alright, right?”

“Yes, I think I finally am,” Little One said. “Though I managed to lose my backpack down there.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” sighed Ginger. “You don’t need it.” Suddenly she looked away shyly. “I guess you did a pretty good job of proving me wrong, though, didn’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean literally the moment I told you that the earth was doing a good job of holding you up, you fell right through it.” She turned back to meet his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Little One. I feel like this is my fault for not taking your concerns seriously.”

Little One laughed. “Actually, I realized something down there, Ginger. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. I almost killed myself trying to keep us safe from everything that could go wrong. But you know what I learned from all this?” Ginger shook her head.

“Well, first of all, I think it’s pretty clear I can’t keep us safe from anything.” Little One shook his head and smiled.

“And I also realized that that’s okay. Because when I blacked out, I dreamt I was an eagle. And every time I fell, I was carried back up again. It’s like there was something rock-solid supporting me. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was, but then I understood.”

Ginger looked at him. Her expression was thoughtful, her eyebrows arched. “What was it, Little One?”

“I was being held up by…me. Not by what I do, but by who I am. My safety doesn’t come from what’s happening outside of me. All my efforts to control the external world are pointless. What keeps me secure is what happens inside of me. It’s the strength in my soul, the peace in my heart, and my intrinsic ability to respond to whatever’s happening in the world with kindness, compassion, and love that keep me safe.  That keeps my internal experience secure regardless of what’s happening outside.”

Ginger’s eyebrows arched curiously. “And I realized something else,” he continued. “When I saw how supported I am by who I am, I realized how supported I am by everything else.”

“Like what?” Ginger asked.

“The wind. You. My family. The serpent. The world. Everything, I think. There’s so much support available to us all the time that we don’t even see.  I mean, think about the people who love us, the plants that feed us, the rain that nourishes us, and the sun that warms us. Lots of bad stuff can happen. But the whole world is always holding us up.”

Ginger’s laughter was like bells filling his ears. He looked over and met her eyes. “And now,” he said, smiling, “speaking of food and nourishment, I’m starving. Would you mind making me something to eat?”

Ginger giggled. “I’d love to!” she said. “I’ll just need to go collect some food. Somebody got so excited by how supported he is that he threw all of ours away.”

Little One laughed. He had no food, no supplies, no map, and no plan, and yet he’d never felt more confident and secure. Everything he needed was already within him. He folded his arms behind his head and laid back on the earth, enjoying the sensation of the entire world holding him up.

Click here to read the next story in the series.

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Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC


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