Tired rays of light from the fading sun waltz over the wave-crests and settle in my eyes. A cooling breeze tickles my face, as I rest on the promontory overlooking the eastern sea. For the last two years I have enjoyed the relaxation I can find here, where I can meditate in peace, away from my young charges. God has been kind to me, to bless me with so many moments of beauty and wonder on these cliff tops. It is easy for me to gain the inspiration I need to carry out the wishes of the God whom I love. "Will it be tonight?" I wonder.
In order to find out, I soar high, and reach a treetop a few hundred feet inland. I gaze towards the western horizon, in time to see the moon raising her face serenely into the evening sky. I feel my pulse race slightly, and a pleasant tremor of excitement within my stomach, as I come to the conclusion - "Yes, tonight I have work to do."
After my prayers of thankfulness and requests for success in my coming night's exploits I fly back to my awaiting clan. They too are able to anticipate the special time of transformation. The night when our children break out of their hibernation is always distinguished by the blackening of our moon when at its brightest. It is always a fearful sight, and I remember being shocked when I saw a bite-sized portion grow slowly, to eat up the whole moon.
Now, as the evening darkens, the moon stands out in its brilliance, illuminating the forest clearing that we call home. From experience I know that the present flood of light makes it even more likely that darkness can follow, and that we have reached the night of the obsidian moon. The faces that gather around me are eager with anticipation. "Are you going to bring more children tonight?" they clamor to ask.
"Yes, God willing, I will rescue a few more from their suffering, that they may live a peaceful and joyful life with us here. Please pray for me, that all will go well."
A murmur of assent passes through the group, as I see love and admiration in their eyes, mingled with the pain of the memory of their own new beginnings. None of these youths would be alive today if the council had their way. The council forbids any disturbance of the rebirthings, and sets guards to prevent anyone from interfering. I know deep within me that God dislikes such a tradition of cruelty, but now after two years when I have saved youngsters from torturous deaths, the elders will ensure that any access to the rebirthing grounds has tight security. At least they have enough kindness to let me care for those I have saved, and to leave our clan in peace. However, I am aware that some among them desire my arrest, so would put an end to all of our hopes and joy.
There was one tumultuous day, shortly prior to last year's rebirths, when the elders made an attempt to win me over. I arrived back at the clearing, to see my children flocking around a proud looking, broad-winged elder. There was a great commotion, with some of the youngsters yelling at her, others shrieking in dismay. As I gently glided down to land near the group, Jack, who had found little success in reconciling himself to being flightless for life, tore towards me screaming.
"You are the cause of all this!" was his cry. I was shocked and dismayed, as he hurled accusations at me, and battered me with his useless wings. The others looked on, clearly unwilling to interfere, watching how I would react. I chose not to fight back, but let him push me to the ground, and pummel me until his fury abated.
"I have never done anything or acted in anyway that I thought could harm you", I haltingly replied, with tears in my eyes. "From the day I heard your cries for help, until now, I have worked to do what is best for you. Why are you so angry?"
The elder stepped towards us. "Have you not learnt the Law of the Council?" she asked me. "We require that there is no interference with the rebirth, as it is a delicate point in our life cycle. Any alterations to the traditions inevitably result in weak or fragile adults. You must not take part in any of the ceremonies this year."
She left us then, leaving us in some confusion. I needed to spend long periods in counseling and praying with the youngsters to clear up the situation. Even now, I sense that not all is as it was before. There are some that choose to believe her, and trust the traditions, rather than remain totally loyal to me. I can not complain - I have made the choice to help and care for them all, good and bad, with gratitude or without. Memories of that day flutter in and out of my head, and I suspect many of the others have similar thoughts. As I survey them some are anxious, others excited, but I notice Jack regarding me with a troubled expression. I walk over to him, so I can put his fears to rest. "Don't worry, I'm not going to cause any harm. God will guide me, and I will only be helping those who would suffocate to death without me."
He winces at the word "suffocate", remembering his own struggles all too clearly, when I came to his aid two years ago. Nevertheless, he still makes his plea: "Don't go - leave them this time. See if they all survive without you. The elders could be right."
I shake my head. "I have been given my task to do, and can not let them down - or let God down."
I return to the others, to accept their wishes of good fortune, and to thank them for their support. Bidding them farewell, I take off into the night. I avoid the flamboyant display of aerobatics that are typical nowadays at partings, as none of those I leave will ever fly, and I do not want them to realize how great is the gift they lack. From the beginning I thought that their lives would be more bearable away from others. Those graced with abilities they lacked, would inevitably feel superior and look down on our clan. Here my children learn everything they need from me. The fun and joy that they seem to have, clearly demonstrates that I made the right decision. I chose to save them for life, albeit a stunted one, rather than accept their destiny of a torturous death. The time and energy it takes me to provide for them is rewarded many times over in the love they show me, and in the pleasure I gain from seeing them happy. Living for God already has its benefits.
The stars are quite dim beside the shining moon. I remember when the council announced that other people, or not people like us but conscious beings, were out there near one of those stars. What captured my attention was mention that those beings could not fly without help, and were quite happy just to walk and stay on the ground! Unfortunately, although we were told they would come to meet us, our star visitors failed to arrive. Many now disbelieve the message, but for me it gives strong support to the role that I have taken on. If God has created intelligent beings that can not fly, but live otherwise happy and successful lives then those here who can not fly also deserve a chance of life and happiness.
I glide to a halt, and perch on a branch overlooking my destination. The uneven terrain is eerie in the moonlight, swallowed in grayness and fearsome shadows. I observe the rocky outcrops marking the cave complex where many young are coming to the end of their rest. A whole month ago they came here, crawling on their bellies, in the humble way we all commence our lives. Even the noblest leader and wisest elder began life as a swollen-bellied crawler - I think it would do us all good to contemplate that truth!
I can see no guard, but even though this area is far from any habitation, I can not expect it to have gone unnoticed by the council. I wait quietly, and listen.
The silence beckons me forwards, so I approach the nearest opening, and pause to hear what could be within. There is a slight rustling, but that could be from the young, in the early stages of awakening. Then I hear a distant chuckle. So, there must be more than one, and they are no doubt nervous by now, as the first sliver of blackness has cut into the edge of the moon. The opening is too small for me to enter, so I head for a larger one, close to the guards. Tonight everything will depend on my timing. I am patient.
The noise of the young rises as the night sky darkens. The black hole, which appears to have swallowed the moon, grows to engulf it. In the moment of total darkness, I swoop down through the entrance. I can see no better than the guards, but I have done my scouting well, and practiced the maneuver well enough not to dive headlong into granite. An uproar of squeals and shrieks can be heard from different caves. Although the screams of agony shake me to the root of my being, I am grateful that the ruckus covers any sounds my entrance might have made. It is hard for me to maintain my stealth, as I tremble with the emotion of hearing so many young crying for help. It is wise that the elders prevent parents from being near at this stage, or no one would allow the tradition of leaving them unaided to continue. Bitter memories of my own rebirth are strong.
Fear. Suffocation. Struggle. A seemingly endless struggle, with no comfort or help. Hunger. Thirst. Loneliness as it dawned that no one would help me. Tiredness, leading to a cessation of pointless cries for help, and pure concentration on the task of freeing myself from my confines. Finally, the pain I never have recovered from, was the pain of betrayal. Over a day into the process, while I could see other young leaving with their parents I called for my mother to relieve me from the trap, but she never came. I saw her, she tried to smile in encouragement, but she never helped me. My scream became one of anger as I freed myself of final strands of glue, and fled the place, without a further glance at her. I vowed to do all I could in the future to help others out of such torment where even my parents had failed to come to my aid.
I move toward some of the deepest caves, so I have little chance of being discovered until I have finished. As usual, before acting against the will of the council - a disgraceful and harmful thing to do, we had been taught as youths - I wonder if this really is God's desire for me. And if I should act, amidst all this pain, the question is which one to help?
The second question always seems to answer the first. I do not know how I choose, so it can only be God who guides me. But the fact that I am always led to save the weakest is how I know I must be helped by the Omniscient One. Tonight, just as in every previous rescue attempt, I allow myself to be guided to one of the encasements. The youth I free is one who is too weak to fly. Without me, surely he would have been left to die. I smile gently in response to his exhausted expression of relief. I do not know how God guides me, but it seems it takes no effort for me to decide. I ask God "where?" and proceed to help the one whose cry seems to disturb me most. I move to another cavern, full of confidence now, and begin ripping away the fibrous white layers.
To my surprise I feel a rough grip near the back of my neck, and I am violently pulled away.
"Leave me alone, I must free her!" I cry, realizing that there is a weak young female inside. Her calls of distress pierce me to the bone, and give me strength to turn on my assailant and remove his grip.
There are two of them, though, and the second knocks me to the ground. "Leave her," the first bellows in a deep, throaty voice. "Councils orders!" "No! How can you let her die! Please, help me to free her!" I beg. "Wait!" I am forced to the ground, and find myself helpless to move, both of them being far heavier than I am.
I try to shut the screams of panic out of my head. They still echo inside. I attempt to pray a mantra, but can not think. I find myself crying out, joining the chorus of desperation that engulfs me.
I don't know how long they hold me there, but after many crescendos and diminuendos of the hellish chorus, fatigue takes hold of me, and I stop struggling. I feel the grip on me relax somewhat, and manage to slowly raise my head. Several newly born adults are making their way out of the chamber, towards the waiting embraces of joyful families. I glance fearfully, towards the cocoon of the one I was brought to save.
In astonishment, I notice that she is stepping out, alive! Her wings seem to be stronger than those of my flightless children. How can that be? I ask the guards to let me see the other caves. Hesitantly they oblige - they want to check that everything is completed too. Again, I am surprised. Not one cocoon appears to be intact. They have all escaped!
Stepping outside, is a sight to move even the coldest of hearts. The spectacle of young adults, each trying out their fledgling new wings is a vibrant, colorful display of life. All the young adults are excited by their newly found freedom. That is, all except one.
The guards allow me to slowly walk over to the forlorn-looking creature with flimsy wings, who regards the others with tears in his eyes. I am choked with sorrow for him. "Come with me," I say. "Come, join your brothers and you will see that life can be good."
I lead him away, and ponder the events of the previous night. God works in mysterious ways, and yes, I still have much to understand.