What do I mean by that? Touch the Sky, to me, means striving and sacrificing to be your best, rising high above all the challenges and obstacles blocking your path as you soar through your life. Like the inspiring symbol for our nation and our freedom, the majestic and noble American Bald Eagle, Touch the Sky means climbing and working and never ever giving up in your quest to achieve your dreams.
In order to fly, to gaze down on mountaintops, we need wings. And our wings do not sprout on our backs all at once, and even after they are formed, they still must grow stronger, become more flexible and refined.
The American Bald Eagle builds its nests in large trees near rivers or coasts. A typical nest is around 5 feet in diameter. Eagles often use the same nest year after year. Over the years, some nests become enormous, as much as 9 feet in diameter, weighing two tons. The nest may be built in a tree or on a cliff, high above the ground.
Baby eagles begin learning to fly--a process referred to as fledging-- when they are only two to three months old. Usually this process takes a couple of months. During the learning process, many of the eagles fall to the ground, and some are hurt. Eagle parents will often continue to feed and care for baby eagles that have fallen to the ground until the babies learn. While the eagles will stay close to the nest while they are learning to fly, once they've mastered the process, they will fly far and wide, and most won't remain near the area of their birth.
Someone who spent many hours observing eagles described the process for one young bird. As I read from the book, “An Eagle to the Sky,” try to hear a few lessons for acquiring your own wings, or helping someone you love grow and use their first set:
“The eaglet was now alone in the nest.
Each time a parent came flying toward the nest he called for food eagerly; but over and over again, the parent came with empty feet, and the eaglet grew thinner. He pulled meat scraps from the old dried-up carcasses lying around the nest. He watched a sluggish carrion beetle, picked it up gingerly, and ate it. His first kill.
Days passed, and as he lost body fat he became quicker in his movements and paddled ever more lightly when the wind blew, scarcely touching the nest’s edge; from time to time he was airborne for a moment or two.
Parents often flew past and sometimes fed him. Beating his wings and teetering on the edge of the nest, he screamed for food whenever one flew by. And a parent often flew past just out of reach, carrying delectable meals: a half-grown jack rabbit or a plump rat raided from a dump. Although he was hungry almost all the time, he was becoming more playful as he lost his baby fat; sometimes, when no parent bird was in sight, he pounced ferociously on a scrap of prairie dog skin or on old bits of dried bone.
Hunger and the cold mountain nights were having their effect, not only on his body but on his disposition. A late frost hit the valley, and a night wind ruffled his feathers and chilled his body. When the sunlight reached the edge of the nest, he sought its warmth; and soon, again, he was bounding in the wind, now light and firm-muscled.
Later, a parent flew by, downwind, dangling a young squirrel in its feet. The eaglet almost lost his balance in his eagerness for food. Then the parent swung by again, closer, upwind, and riding the updraft by the nest, as though daring him to fly. Lifted light by the wind, he was airborne, flying--or more gliding--for the first time in his life. He sailed across the valley to make a scrambling, almost tumbling landing on a bare knoll. As he turned to get his bearings the parent dropped the squirrel nearby. Half running, half flying he pounced on it, mantled his wings, and ate his fill.
So, you see the eagle’s hunger had much to do with the development of his wings, and overcoming his fear of flying, of touching the sky.
What are you hungry for? Are you hungry for easy meals and easy times or do you hunger for difficult challenges, for mountaintop experiences, for life-defining service worthy of the history of our great nation?
Do you feel fear as you think about the journey ahead; the suffering and sacrifice that every life encounters sooner or later? Good. Your fear can be your friend. Let it drive you to plan, work, and search out the truth of how to best prepare for the tribulation that awaits you. I have had an ally during those dark nights of my soul; someone to care for me when, like the eaglet, I have fallen in an attempt to touch the sky in some part of my life.
Our young soldiers are fighting in two wars now, and perhaps soon in a third. These conflicts are testing whether our nation, or any nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can long endure.
Do those words sound familiar? With humility and reverent respect, I quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg was the costiliest battle of the Civil War--51,112 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed during July 1-3, 1863.
When our nation was in its gravest peril, when our destiny seemed to be deeply in doubt, President Lincoln soared above incredible anguish, fought through prolonged personal despair, and persevered through one horrible, tragic battle after another, and brought our country safely home. What would his words be to us today as we seek to overcome this evil world? I believe he would say now, as he said at Gettysburg:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I can assure you, I will promise you, that if you take the noble flight path, the airway of integrity and service to your family, your nation, and this suffering, hurting world, you will be opposed, you will be met by a force that will work diligently to clip your wings, to bring you down, as was President Lincoln.
Your family, your friends, and your faith are your strong shield against attacks from those who would seek to wound you. Prepare for these inevitable, cowardly ambushes by “touching the sky” in all areas of your life; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Build yourself an invincible suit of armor with buckles of truth and links of love.
Sometime during my college days, probably during the first year of Air Force ROTC, I was introduced to the poem, “High Flight,” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Magee was an American pilot serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941, several months before we entered World War II.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was born in Shanghai, China, to an American father and a British mother who worked as Anglican missionaries. His father, John Magee Senior, was from a family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of some wealth and influence—there is the Pittsburgh Magee Hospital and the Magee Building. Magee Senior, disregarding family wealth, chose to become an Episcopal priest and was sent as a missionary to China and there met his wife, Faith Emmeline Backhouse. Faith came from Helmingham in Suffolk, England, and was a member of the Church Missionary Society.
Magee Senior helped rescue more than 200,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians during the Nanking Massacre when hundreds of thousands innocent Chinese were ruthlessly slaughtered by Japanese soldiers in 1937. Magee Senior also filmed parts of the massacre, and his photo and film survive today as the most complete evidence of this tragic and terrible event. He was offered huge sums of money for the photographs and film, but he refused all offers, and donated his work to museums.
His son, John, Jr., the author of “High Flight,” was educated at Rugby School from 1935 to 1939. Magee developed his poetry while at the school, and in 1938 won the school's Poetry Prize. He was deeply moved by the roll of honour of Rugby students who had fallen in the First World War.
Magee, only 19 years old, started “High Flight” on the 18th of August 1941, just a few months before his death in a mid-air collision over war-time England. He had flown up to 33,000 feet in a Spitfire Mark I, his seventh flight in a Spitfire. As he orbited and climbed upward, he was struck with the inspiration of a poem—"To touch the face of God." He completed the poem later that day after landing.
Magee enclosed the poem on the back of a letter to his parents. His father, then curate of Saint John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, reprinted it in church publications. The poem became more widely known through the efforts of Archibald McLeish, then Librarian of Congress, who included it in an exhibition of poems called 'Faith and Freedom' at the Library of Congress in February 1942. The manuscript copy of the poem remains at the Library of Congress.
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
I hope something I’ve said, or someone more eloquent than me has said, will inspire you to Touch the Sky, and by so doing, Touch the Face of God. God has been my ally, my trustworthy helper during many a successful, and not so successful flight through both the sun-drenched and storm-torn days of my life. I pray He will help you take an adventurous, exciting flight to the heavens. Ask Him today to give you wings to soar like an eagle.
St. Patrick’s Day is next Thursday, March 17th. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn in celebration of St Patrick's Day as early as the 17th century. He is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaf clover, to explain the Holy Trinity.
There are many Irish toasts to begin things, and blessings to end them. Here’s one you may recognize.
“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His Hand.”
Thanks for reading. I have prayed for you.
(From a speech I gave at a Civil Air Patrol cadet squadron annual awards banquet. The first part of the actual talk was:
Cadets, squadron staff, families and friends, is a distinct honor for me to be a part of your celebration and ceremony, and share this special time with you tonight.
In the words of your National Commander, Major General Amy Courter, “Civil Air Patrol enjoys a proud legacy of selfless sacrifice and service to country and community that spans decades.”
“The first Civil Air Patrol members of 1941 were a heroic breed, men and women who served their country by sinking or chasing away German submarines off America's East and Gulf coasts. As a result of their bravery, patriotism and tenacity, CAP subchasers effectively thwarted German U-boat attacks and, in the process, saved countless lives.”
Today’s Civil Air Patrol still flies dangerous missions, and still saves a hundred or more lives a year. What a magnificent and memorable history your organization enjoys. You should be very proud of what you have accomplished through the years since Civil Air Patrol was formed shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.)