Soaring with Eagles

Soaring with Eagles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

Soaring with Eagles

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start,
anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.

~Author Unknown

John and I strained forward as if to assist his worn Army surplus Jeep, inching up a steep hill blanketed with loose sliding rock. A heartbeat later, I was hurled to the ground. The Jeep’s wheels pointed skyward, spinning dizzily. I screamed for John; then I screamed again. My cries were met with silence.

We had first become acquainted as pen pals. I so admired his struggle to become a doctor and to serve his people with no thought of personal gain. It was not just a profession for John, it was a calling. So when he invited me to spend the summer with him as an assistant and traveling teacher, on vacation from my regular teaching job, I could barely contain my excitement. Many of the families he treated lived in remote areas that often lacked roads, and the small children had no benefit of schooling.

Our first meeting at the airport held no awkwardness—John offered a warm embrace as if we’d been friends forever. Early the next morning we were off on rounds, leaving dusty white whirls behind the Jeep. Abruptly, I cried out: “Stop, John! Stop!”

Alarmed, he slammed on the brakes. “What’s wrong?”

“Look up there!” I shouted. “Look, an eagle! Oh! It’s my very first one.” Overcome by its beauty and majesty, I wept.

He leaned to brush away my tears with gentle fingers. “My city girl has heard her first call of the wild,” he said quietly. “From this moment on, you shall be known as ‘Little Eagle.’

In that moment we fell in love.

Each morning after that, John would call, “Come, Little Eagle, it’s time to soar. The children need you.”

Whenever we pulled up to a cluster of tiny houses, children would run to hug us. Shouts of “Dr. John and Little Eagle are here!” were a symphony to my ears. How I loved this work. John treated his patients with respect and compassion. He listened before he spoke, and his patients’ smiling eyes mirrored the trust he had earned.

I often assisted John until the children tugged at my jeans for their lessons, which I disguised as games. Their eyes grew wide when I brought oranges and cut them into fractional parts. At the end of the lesson, we sat in a circle, sang a numbers’ song and ate every fraction.

John and I cared for their bodies, minds and spirits. Our pay was a shared meal, a heartfelt hug or a handshake. Grateful mothers offered to patch our threadbare jeans with bits of colorful cloth. With the small stipend we received from the government, we purchased upgraded medical supplies and nourishing treats for the children.

In a few short weeks, our friendship blossomed into a spiritual bond bred of shared service. Our hearts became one. Whenever unpredictable medical emergencies delayed our departure, we would camp out, as traveling after dark on makeshift roads was impossible. Sleeping in John’s arms beneath billions of stars in the South Dakota sky was the closest thing to heaven I have ever known.

By mid-August, I called home to tell Mom and Dad that I would be staying on.

“If it makes you happy,” said Dad, clearing his throat, “then I share your happiness.”

Mama whispered into the phone, “I know you’re young and in love, but it pains me to think you’ll be dirt poor for all your life.”

“Oh, no, Mama, we’ll never be poor. You cannot imagine how rich we are.”

These are the memories that sustained and tortured me once my dreams were shattered. John was dead and my career was over, because none of the city schools were wheelchair accessible. My principal had offered to build a ramp, but his request to have me return was denied.

In the hospital, I cried myself to sleep.

I awoke one night to see John sitting on my bed, and I heard his gentle voice as if he were whispering in my ear: “The Little Eagle that I know and love would not give up so easily,” he scolded. “You have to help yourself soar again—the children need you.”

“Oh, John, I can’t. It’s just too much. Take me with you, please!”

“That is not to be,” he said. “The city children need you. Imprisoned by concrete, they know nothing of the joys of nature. Share your joy with them; bring it into the classroom. You have the gift, Little Eagle. Don’t throw it away.”

Then he was gone.

For the next two months, I worked feverishly in physical therapy. Every muscle and bone in my upper body screamed, but I would not stop. Struggling to hold myself erect on parallel bars, I swung my legs ahead or dragged them behind me, refusing to acknowledge their numbness.

My doctor entered the therapy room and sat down, “You’ve given it all you’ve got, Toni, but there’s no improvement. I’m discharging you tomorrow.”

“I will walk. I know it.”

Cradling my face in his hands, my doctor said, “Sweetie, you’re in denial; at some point you’ll be better off accepting your reality.”

Reality, I thought, as I drifted to sleep that night.

About 3 A.M. a voice awakened me. “Come, Little Eagle—it’s time to soar.” John was standing over my bed, smiling. “Push your legs over the edge and stand up.” John’s softly glowing image kneeled at my feet and gently rubbed my legs until they tingled. I swear I could feel his hands touching me. Then he stood with hands outstretched and backed away. “Walk with me now.”

With hesitant, shuffling steps, I followed him out of my room and into the hall. My eyes were riveted on John, coaxing every step. A stairway loomed ahead.

“One step at a time, Little Eagle. You can do it.”

The sensation in my legs was almost unbearable, as I climbed one step, and then another. Suddenly, from the stairwell door, the excited voices of the resident intern and head nurse carried up the stairs.

“I’ll always be with you,” John whispered. With a kiss on my cheek, he was gone.

For the next two hours, doctors poked and prodded; they mumbled to each other about “spontaneous something or other,” and finally left. When all was quiet, a nurse came in and sat on my bed.

“I saw the young man leading you up the stairs,” she said quietly. “Is he your guardian angel?”

“Yes, he is.”

“I’ve often heard patients speak of seeing angels. Did he tell you his name?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “His name is John.”

Two months later, I returned to my teaching job with a gait sorely lacking in feminine grace, but propelling me nonetheless. My classroom is now filled to bursting with all the wonders of nature. The walls are covered from ceiling to floor with colorful sights from the wild.

Many teachers bring children to my room to view live creatures firsthand. In each child’s eyes, wide with wonder, I see my beloved John, smiling.

And in the quiet of night, when my day is done, my spirit soars with him in velvet skies on the wings of eagles.

~Toni Fulco

Chicken Soup to Inspire the Body & Soul

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