ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker


Not too long ago I had a chance to watch a family of red-tailed hawks in the midst of the fledging process.

Ornithologically speaking, this is the process through which baby birds are coaxed to leave the nest, spread their little wings out and fly.  In the case of the Mama Hawk I was watching (OK, I admit that I’m assuming it was the Mama Hawk – if I’m guilty of gender profiling here . . . well, so be it), the level of her coaxing varied from baby bird to baby bird.  With the first of her three little ones, no coaxing was really required.  The baby hopped up to the edge of the nest, and with only a moment’s hesitation, jumped from the nest and began to fly.  The second took a little longer, and required a gentle nudge from the Mama Hawk before it leaned over the edge and began flapping its wings frantically.

 The third and final chick clearly had a fear of flying.  It took a while – and some fairly aggressive pecking from the Mama Hawk – before this little one was finally perched close enough to the edge of the nest that it appeared flight was imminent.  The prospective fledgling hunkered down there for a while, as the Mama Hawk seemed to be screeching out instructions.  The young bird looked intently at the Mama Hawk, then he looked out into the sky, then back at the screeching Mama Hawk, then back out into the sky.  He seemed almost torn between the home he had known since he was an egg and the partly cloudy yonder.

After a while the Mama Hawk helped settle any question in his mind.  With a flurry of fuss and feathers she used her size and weight to force her offspring out of the nest and into the sky, where he dipped and hesitated and finally flew.

As I sat there on the hood of my car, watching this natural phenomenon play out through the lenses of my binoculars, I found myself empathizing with the Mama Hawk.  As the parent of five offspring, I totally understand the compelling need to get those baby birds out of the nest and flying around on their own as soon as they are able. (I also understand why some members of the animal kingdom eat their young, but that’s a story for another day.)

But I can’t help but wonder if, after all of the little birdies have soared off into the sunset, maybe that Mama Hawk felt a little of what I’m feeling today.  Anita and I just said goodbye to our youngest son, Jon, who at age 19 has made the decision to spend the next two years of his life away from home doing ministerial work for his church. He’s excited at the prospect of this great and wonderful adventure, and he is well-prepared to do what he has been asked to do.  Of course, we support him in this decision and are proud of him and all of that stuff.

But holy cow!  Two years!

I’m not sure Mama Hawks think much about the future and well-being of their fledglings once they have flapped their way into a new ecosystem somewhere.  My guess is her thought process goes something like this: “Oh, look – he’s flying! Oh, look – varmint! Dive!  Dive!  Dive!  MUNCH!” And that’s about as much as she worries about her suddenly empty nest.

Human parents, on the other hand, have to wrestle with un-hawk-like emotions, like love.  And that’s not a bad thing.  In fact, according to the Bible, love is the GREATEST thing.  Because we love there is joy and happiness in our lives when we are surrounded by those who mean the most to us.  And because we love there is pain and sorrow and yearning when they go away, whether it is for two weeks, two years or a lifetime.  You can’t have one without the other.

So if this huge hole in my heart today is the price I have to pay for knowing, raising and loving Jon, I say “Bring it!” I’ll take it, together with the emptiness and sadness I felt when Beth, Andrea, Joe Jr. and Amy each left the nest, respectively, and the tears I shed every time they leave after a way-too-short visit… And I’ll thank God for the privilege of feeling such joyful pain.

Empty nest notwithstanding.

— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

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