“What’s it like to fly, Mama?” Benjamin asked.
“Go play, Benny!” she responded with a frown. Benjamin’s mother wasn’t angry with him; she loved him. She was just tired and frustrated with everything she had to do, yet that day, and it was almost evening.
Benjamin realized he would have to find the answer to his question himself. He put his coat on and went out into the cold, late October air. He walked towards the little woods near his home. This was his favorite place to be. The trees were friendly and listened to Benjamin’s every thought.
As he got closer to the trees, Benjamin thought he saw an owl in the large oak in the center of the woods. He was pretty sure that’s what it was, even though he had never seen one for real, just a picture of one in his school science book. He hurried towards it, but lost sight of it while working his way through the trees.
As he approached the big oak, he saw a dark shape right next to it, even leaning against it! Benjamin hoped it was only a shadow and tried to ignore it as he looked up into the branches for that owl. It was almost Halloween after all. It could be a ghost or an old witch!
“Go ahead, ask the bird,” a low, gravelly voice said. It seemed to come from that shadow against the tree! Benjamin’s heart jumped. He glanced sideways at the dark, slumpy shape. “Go ahead, ask the bird,” the voice repeated. Benjamin squinted his eyes. He could just barely see an old woman’s face in the shadow.
“You’re awfully old looking,” Benjamin observed. “You have lots of wrinkles!”
The face smiled and chuckled.
“Don’t be frightened, boy, I know your question. You want to know about flying. Your mother couldn’t give you an answer because she had the same question when she was your age. The difference is, she gave up finding an answer. Ask the bird, now.”
Benjamin suddenly noticed the owl. It was perched on the old woman’s shoulder, calmly gazing back at him with its big, round, yellow eyes.
“How would I ask a bird anything,” Benjamin wondered out loud. “The owl can’t answer, it doesn’t know how to talk.”
“Look deep into his eyes, little Ben, get down inside him with your thoughts. Do you see, now?”
Benjamin concentrated hard on the owl’s eyes. “Oh! Oh! I see trees! ‘cept I see the tops, not the bottoms! They‘re moving really fast! Oh, no! I think I’m falling!”
“You are not falling, little Ben, your flying. Now what do you feel, Owl Boy?”
“I feel the wind in my face. Look, I can swoop down and soar back up again! I LOVE flying! I want to be a bird!”
As soon as he uttered those words, Benjamin swooped down again, but this time it was different! There was great determination and power pushing him down, faster and faster! Benjamin’s eyes were riveted to one little spot in the grass, as the ground seemed to rush up toward his face. That little spot was moving, now, but not as fast as Benjamin! He dove to that little spot with frightening speed! Just as he was sure he would crash nose first into the ground, he saw that the little spot was a mouse! Benjamin gasped and snapped his eyes shut!
“Open your eyes and keep flying, Owl Boy!” barked the old woman. Benjamin was too frightened to argue.
Back up into the air he went, then he glided past a barn below him. The air was cold, but soft feathers kept little Ben warm as his wings silently pushed him through it.
Without warning, there was a glint of metal from below and then Owl Boy heard a loud crack! Something whizzed by his head! Benjamin closed his eyes again and held his breath.
“Don’t stop, boy, open those eyes! Keep flying! You can’t stop now!” hollered the old wise woman.
Benjamin swerved away from the barn and flew into the tops of the trees. He blinked twice and when he opened his eyes again, he saw that he was standing in front of the woman and her owl friend. Benjamin was suddenly very tired.
“Did you like flying, little Owl Boy?” the wrinkly smile asked.
Benjamin was quiet. He knew he had just learned something; he just wasn’t sure what it was.
“In everything there is a gift,” she said, her hands gesturing to include the whole world. “Each and every being is an answer to someone’s prayer, and everything happens for a reason.” Her voice softened as her words trickled into Benjamin’s mind.
“The mouse could have been food for you, because owls eat mice. But the mouse was spared this time. That was a gift for him. He needed to stay alive, so he could find food for his own family. The farmer shot at you, because he believed he was protecting his chickens. Owls eat chickens, too, you see. You, little Owl Boy, were spared so you could come back here to be you, Benjamin. You have many important things to do in your life as a boy and then as a man. Right, now, your mother needs you.”
Benjamin sat down on the old oak’s roots to think about this. He wondered if the old woman and the owl had been gifts to him. They answered his question. Now he knows what it’s like to fly. The old woman and the owl disappeared into the deepening shadows of evening as Benjamin’s gaze drifted down to the ground at his feet. There in the dirt, lay a feather. Was it an owl’s feather? He would have loved to keep it, but Benjamin decided to give the feather to his mother. She always loved the little gifts he found for her. He was very special to her, because, you see, she had prayed some years ago for a son.
©Patricia DeSandro 1998, revised 2011