I believe what those hawks believed. A few years ago, sitting at a bus stop in Austin, Texas, I observed something that deeply impressed me. It describes as well as anything what I believe.
A thunderstorm approached from the west. The massive, clearly defined thunderhead darkened about one third of the western sky. The other two thirds of the sky were still bright blue. I saw a group of hawks high in the sky. Usually I see them alone, soaring aimlessly or circling prey. I looked again. There were four, hundreds of feet up. They seemed to wander randomly, possibly fighting, darting towards and then away from each other, but clearly staying within each other’s company. I noticed they drifted as a group slowly from east to west. They were letting the warm currents carry them into the teeth of the advancing cold front. Two of them flew at one another and seem to collide before going off in different directions. The storm cloud inched eastward, swallowing everything in its path. When I looked at the hawks again, who continued their drift westward, I realized their movements were not random at all. Two of the hawks traveled in concentric circles, but in opposite directions, so their paths met twice in the course of making a circle, roughly on the northern and southern extremities of their arcs. The other two soared side by side, back and forth, north-south along the diameter of the circle the other two hawks circumscribed. Their behavior no longer looked like fighting, but more like play—organized play. They were enjoying themselves. I was struck by their relaxed and playful posture in the face of such a menacing threat on the horizon.
Those hawks on that stormy afternoon believed in the things that make life worth living: cooperation, inspiration, love for others, and the capacity to discover moments of satisfaction in the midst of the daily grind. “Wait a minute” (you may ask), “how do you know they believed those things? You’re just projecting your own values and beliefs onto the hawks.” You’re probably right: I don’t know, and I am projecting. Such is the nature of belief. We are prolific inventors of ways to interpret the vagaries of reality in a manner that imbues them with significance. Religion, gods, and goddesses are the most common of these inventions. I do not believe in gods or goddesses, and I am not a devotee of any religion. This life is all I expect. My death looms on the horizon as the end of my conscious existence. The force of that knowledge keeps me aloft, close to those I love, awed by the vista, in rapt gratitude for the accident of my existence, even in full awareness of its fragility, transience, and absurdity.
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