Dean of Intercultural Education & Religious and Spiritual Life Victor Kazanjian
September 4, 2012
One beautiful day early this summer as I strolled across campus, I was suddenly startled out of my peacefulness by a horrible, screeching, screaming sound coming from somewhere nearby. It was an almost otherworldly sound, a cry, a scream. At first I thought it was human and immediately all of my caretaking instincts swung into action. But then as I heard it again, it began to sound familiar. I had heard this before. Yes, I had heard it before; on hikes through wild places, deep in forests, high on mountain tops, even in my own backyard a few miles from campus. It had to be... the cry of a hawk.
I scanned the sky and trees around me, but could not find from whence the sound had come. Returning to my office I continued to hear it off and on throughout the day, and for most days throughout the rest of the summer. But as hard and as often as I looked, I could not find that hawk.
And then one day, out by the Campus Center, I heard it and then saw it just above me darting between the trees: a red tailed hawk… mystical creature of the skies, depicted in folklore and mythologies from cultures around the world as the solar bird, symbol of sun gods and sky gods, messenger between worlds, harbinger of the Goddess Circe, the God Apollo. And then my mental musings were once again broken by the hawk’s shrill call. I looked up to see not one but two red-tailed hawks. What was up with these hawks?
And why all the noise?
Perhaps one was guarding its territory from the other; hawks (and humans) seem to do that quite a bit. Perhaps they were engaged in a hawk courting dance, day after day after day. Perhaps they were already a couple guarding their young from danger, like me I suppose. Perhaps they were two adolescent, or emerging adult hawks, just testing out their voices, spreading their wings as it were as they burst out into the adult hawk world. Or perhaps as one colleague suggested, maybe the hawks just missed all of you and their cries were cries of agony at your absence.
These past months I found myself thinking and reading about hawks. And last week, on first-year move-in day, I came across words from a book on the hawk as a Native American totem, a symbol of awareness, perspective, insight, truth, power, and creativity.
And so, on this convocation day as a new academic year begins, let me offer a possible loose translation of what the hawk’s message might be for us.
Spread your wings and fly. See meaning in ordinary experiences and become more observant of all things around you. Free yourselves of thoughts and beliefs that are limiting your ability to soar above your life and gain a greater perspective. Soar high enough to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture that will allow you to seek truth and gain insight in a greater context.
This year, in the days and weeks and months to come, may you spread your wings like the hawks who inhabit this place; may you spread your wings, fly high and flourish.
Live in the tensions, Wellesley sisters and siblings, colleagues and friends. Live in the tensions.
I understand that this may not be welcome news as this new year begins, because for most of us living in the tensions is not where we want to be; not the solid ground that feels firm under our feet, not the safe space where we feel most secure.
No doubt the seeming safety of certainty in things intellectual, relational, and spiritual calls to us from places within and without. It is a kind of siren beckoning us towards safe harbor.
Come here weary one. Come here where it is safe, away from the world of complexity and confusion. Do not strain yourself. Do not struggle. Rather come to a place where all things are easy and familiar. Come here and find rest.
And yet in answering this call, in fleeing life’s tensions, in playing it safe, we too often end up isolated; castaways on islands of sameness and security; run aground on reefs of promised certainty where apparent truth and knowledge are easily found provided for us by others who claim to know such things.
“Whoever undertakes to set them self up as ultimate judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” With these words Albert Einstein cautioned against claims of certainty, inviting us rather to seek and embrace mystery: to become awake and alive in mind, body, and spirit; to explore that which we do not already know; to risk going where we have not already been.
And so in this year ahead, I invite you to live in the tensions, as uncomfortable as they may sometimes be. I invite you to explore unfamiliar ideas; to embrace encounters with people different from yourself; to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone; to step out onto what may feel like precarious places; whether this be in class, with colleagues and friends, or as you venture out into the world beyond Wellesley.
It is in the tensions, in the differences, the disquietness, the ambiguities, the paradoxes. It is in these places that mystery awaits.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” Einstein wrote, “It is the source of all true art and all science.”
I wish for you much mystery this year. I wish for you the strength and courage to stand in the uncertain and yet delicious tensions that life offers.
And when you struggle (and you will), or are in doubt, turn not to the siren’s call, but listen for the call of the hawk and see where she might lead you.