seel: close (a person’s eyes); prevent (someone) from seeing. —Dictionary.com
seel: to close the eyes of (a bird, such as a hawk) by drawing threads through the eyelids. —Merriam-Webster.com
A Spiritual Journey Thursday reflection
Over Thanksgiving break from school, I read a book about a family of twelve children, six of whom (all boys) were diagnosed with schizophrenia: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. I expected to learn more about the disorder, how it manifests as a distorted, alternate reality, affecting a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. I expected to learn about the part genetics play (six siblings!). I expected loads of medical research and new scientific insights…more than anything, I expected to be moved by the story.
I did. I was.
In a word: Devastating.
I never expected to learn a haunting little detail about falconry.
Originating in ancient times as a form of hunting, it became a sport and status symbol of the nobility in medieval Europe. A pastime of the Galvin family in Hidden Valley Road, falconry involves trapping a bird and training it to be completely dependent on the bidding of the falconer by “seeling” its eyes—stitching its eyelids closed.
Young Don and Mimi, parents of four boys at the time, trapped their first bird of prey, a red-tailed hawk. They consulted the local zoologist for guidance on training. He said, “Now sew the eyelids together”:
Stabler explained that [falcons’] eyelids protect them as they dive at speeds upwards of two hundred miles per hour. But in order to train a falcon the way Henry VIII’s falconers did it, the bird’s eyelids should be temporarily sewn shut. With no visual distractions, a falcon can be made dependent on the will of the falconer—the sound of his voice, the touch of his hands. The zoologist cautioned Mimi: Be careful the stitches aren’t too tight or too loose, and that the needle never pricks the hawk’s eyes. There seemed to be any number of ways to make hash of the bird…Mimi went to work on the edge of each eyelid, one after the other…Stabler complimented Mimi on her work. “Now,” he said, “you have to keep it on the fist for forty-eight hours”…At the end of those forty-eight hours, Mimi and Don had successfully domesticated a hawk. They felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. This was about embracing the wild, natural world and also about bringing it under one’s control. Taming these birds could be brutal and punishing. But with consistency and devotion and discipline, it was unbelievably rewarding.
Not unlike, they often thought, the parenting of a child.
For me, the fleeting sense of wonder is outweighed by horror on reading these lines… for suffering of the bird, for the foreshadowed suffering of these parents, these children.
The image will not leave my mind. I think about what a falcon symbolizes. Among many things, freedom. Which was taken away, here.
The most famous book of wisdom and suffering happens to mention a falcon. In Job 28, the title character continues a speech around the question “Where is wisdom?” Job marvels at the precious resources hidden in the earth and humans’ ability to extract them through mining. Human industry brings silver, gold, iron, copper, sapphires from the depths to the light.
Job speaks of the hidden way to such treasures:
That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it (28:7).
The metaphor is for wisdom, how elusive it is to mankind, and that its value is far above any earthly riches: “Man does not know its worth” (v. 13). The word “hidden” is referenced or alluded to over and over; wisdom can’t be seen even by the creatures with the keenest eyesight, birds of the air. Wisdom comes only from God (v. 28).
A song also plays in my mind, this line from Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind”: How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
Hidden wisdom, hidden treasure. Hidden Valley Road. Hidden suffering, to an unimaginable degree…
I can’t help but think, as the year 2020 comes to a close, how those numbers stand for perfect vision—and the irony of so much we never saw coming.
Moving forward, let us seek wisdom, above all. Let us not be guilty of seeling our own eyes—or our hearts—to suffering beyond our own. Let us see.
Most of all, Dear God, don’t let us perpetuate more of it.
Photo: el7bara. CC BY
Quotation: Robert Kolker, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, 2020, p. 5-6.
Written with gratitude for my Spiritual Journey family. See more at A Word Edgewise – thank you, Linda, for hosting.