Seagulls are a common sight on Cape Cod, where I used to live. They frequent the beaches, parking lots, campgrounds—they are everywhere! And still, their grace and beauty, their ease in flight as they pass over the ocean, always impresses me. I love them.
While driving home from work one evening a number of years ago, I saw a seagull on the side of the road, dragging one wing, struggling to fly. I found a safe place to pull over and scooped him up, reassuring him that I was there to help. He was frightened, and being a wild creature, did not take to being confined in my truck—but as I wrapped him in my sweater to hold his wing in place, he quieted. I brought him to my farm, where a multitude of animals awaited their evening feeding.
Having worked at a veterinary hospital as a nurse for many years, I knew how to tape up his wing. This I did, and placed him in a small hay shed with fresh water and some tuna fish. We called him Seymour, because that is what a bird can do from its vantage point in the sky: see more!
All the animals on our small farm had come to us in varying states of challenged health, or had been abandoned or mistreated. Prayer surrounded and encircled our days there, and we had beheld so many evidences of God’s healing grace as these animals regained their footing as part of Love’s own flock. It was a place of reverence, and a constant reminder of the power of Love to “bind up the broken-hearted” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, p. 366).
So, Seymour became part of the crew. I fed him each day, speaking gently to him while moving slowly so as not to frighten him. I was careful, too, of his status as a wild bird, and did not try to make him into a pet.
Our goal was to bear witness to the truth of Seymour’s identity, then to release him. In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy wrote that “God gives the lesser idea of Himself for a link to the greater, and in return, the higher always protects the lower. . . . Love giveth to the least spiritual idea might, immortality, and goodness, which shine through all as the blossom shines through the bud” (p. 518). To me, right there on the farm, that passage meant that God gave me Seymour to glorify Him; and that as I understood more of the unbroken, ever-present, unconfined nature of Spirit’s individual expression, we could expect to tangibly experience that healing, and come to know God better as a result.
Seymour seemed content at first, but after several weeks had gone by, I noticed a change in him. He lost interest in eating and started to become very restless. I had been consistently praying to see more of Seymour’s spiritual identity, and I knew with certainty that God loved him. One afternoon I was pondering our unity with God, our seamless relationship with Him, when the thought came commandingly clear to let Seymour go.
I paused, and what I heard next is part of a passage which is found in the Christian Science Quarterly and read at Christian Science church services each Sunday. Without a doubt these words were meant for me: “. . . undivorced from truth, uncontaminated and unfettered by human hypotheses, and divinely authorized.” While this line refers to the Bible Lesson-Sermon studied and read each week, I saw how these ideas applied to how I thought about the bird. He was already free! He had never been separated from Truth, from wholeness. He could not be fettered by a material belief in broken bones, or the time it may take to mend. And what is a bird supposed to do but fly?
With that idea firmly implanted in my heart I went to the hay shed and carefully unwrapped Seymour’s wing. It stayed in its rightful position as I carried him to the pond next to our home. I whispered to him to go ahead and be the bird God made him to be, and set him down at the water’s edge.
Seymour did not hesitate to take to the water. He spread his wings, he drank from the cool pond, and he paddled deeper and deeper. But he did not fly.
I knew that I had not been careless in my decision to release him. I, too, had been divinely authorized. So I stood and waited. After a few moments another seagull appeared, flying overhead. I was casually watching when this seagull began to descend, and then it landed on the water, right next to Seymour! They floated side by side a few moments and then the visiting gull took off. Seymour tried to follow, flapping his wings in an effort to lift himself into the air, but he could not get out of the water.
I realized that something quite special was taking place, and I called my children to come watch with me. The airborne gull circled the pond and again landed beside Seymour. It was as if he were encouraging Seymour, beckoning him. Again he flew, and again Seymour tried to follow, without success. This went on several times. My children, from the shore, were coaxing him: “You can do it!”
By this time the two gulls were way out in the pond, getting harder to see. We watched them floating side by side in the quiet of the afternoon, and I felt a sweet calm. We waited. When the visiting gull took off this time, Seymour spread his wings, flapped them vigorously, and lifted up. He flew just behind the other gull, and they disappeared. We clapped our hands and waved goodbye. I stood a while in the fading light, in gratitude and wonder.
What we saw that day is something we never could have outlined, or even imagined. It was the embodiment of this Bible passage, in Psalm 139: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (verses 9, 10).
And so it was through a simple seagull that I learned more of God. I learned that God’s love comes in infinite shapes. I learned that whatever seems to limit, confine, or diminish us in any way cannot be true—because it is not divinely authorized. I learned that Love will find us wherever we are, and remains with us as we gain our freedom.
Caroline Martin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.