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ON EAGLE’S WINGS
“And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.”
Before I was mature enough to understand the true importance of faith in my life my parents would sometimes drag me along with them to Catholic Church on Sunday mornings. I was baptized Catholic as an infant and I insignificantly confirmed my religion in eighth grade at that same Catholic Church. And, although I spent years of Sundays waking up to run late to ten o’clock mass to give the sign of the cross and repeat my most synthetic “peace-be-with-you’s,” I couldn’t even tell you the name of the priest. Instead of absorbing the lectures I’d focus on blowing a bigger bubble than the kid my age a pew ahead of me or I’d study the angles of the pigmented rays that shone through the elegant stained glass windows. For me, church was about surviving the hour and keeping myself occupied, which was often interrupted by summons to stand, sit or kneel. Sometimes I’d follow along in the gospel song books provided to every pew. But usually, I paid no attention at all.
Although my memory of the words in this song is strong as it pertains to my life even now, the initial memory of the first time I heard it is vague and blurred. I remember the song was found on page 612 of those green, tampered gospel books and I remember that the church choir didn’t often sing it during mass. (Although, our Sunday morning attendance wasn’t so persistent so my observations may be slightly inaccurate). But I remember now how it moved me and impacted my faith, even though I probably didn’t realize its power over me at the time.
This song, which remains one of my favorite compositions of all time, felt like a gift to me. When I heard the words of this song I felt like it was hugging me and comforting me for no deeper reason than just because. And, although its lyrics were tranquilizing and sincere, they made me feel small. Small like the feeling you get when you stand alone against the dark ocean at night, the salty cool wind ripping through your hair, and realize you can’t determine where the sea ends and the heavens ascend. Small like the kind of small you realize you are when you look up into the endless midnight sky dusted with the pearls of the universe and realize that they’re light-years away, however far that is. And it almost scares me to realize how inferior I am on this earth. But it also grips my faith and entices my soul. Sometimes I notice myself craving to hear this song again. Sometimes I notice its majesty cradling in my mind and sometimes I just belt it out. Other times it simply sings softly in my heart and I am its only audience. Sometimes I feel as though God handpicked its words as a gift to me, and I feel blessed.
The song is called On Eagle’s Wings and the last time I remember hearing it play in that Catholic Church was at my brother’s funeral. That was also the last time, the only time that I saw my dad cry.
When I was younger I used to look up to my parents. Things have naturally changed over time, but there’s a certain flawless relationship between a child and her mother and father that exists now only in photographs and “remember-when’s.” As an avid scrapbooker, I have pounds of those old “remember-whens” stacked in overloaded shoeboxes overflowing with memories, some clear and some that exist only in print, waiting for their placement next to scraps and stickers, press-ons and velum quotes. In this pile are some of my favorite snapshots from my illustrious adolescence. As I flip through them, sometimes I chuckle. Other times, my eyes swell with desperate tears. I look back on these photographs and try to remember our old family vacations as much as possible from summers when I preferred boogey boarding and burying myself in drip castles rather than sunbathing in bikinis. And there’s one picture that’s particularly on my mind, waiting for its perfect disposition into my scrapbook. It features my parents and me standing in the foamy tide of the crystal sea. In it, my mom is sporting a god-awful one piece from the nineties, my dad’s goofing around and revealing a jolly, Johnson Family Vacation kind of smile, and I’m loving every minute of life in my purple polka-dot swim suit with a big hole purposely cut into its belly area, allowing mine to swell out. In this picture I am sand-covered and smiling at the feet of my parents, the splashing sea foam rocking my childish figure.
When I see this captured moment it reminds me of the beginning of my relationship with my parents. It reminds me of the days when my mom was my best friend and she would read me poems and short stories before I drifted off to dream. It reminds of the nights when my dad would tuck me in, sit next to me on my bed and run his fingers through my L’Oreal hair to help me fall asleep. And it kind of makes my heart heavy to realize how quickly time has passed since that photograph was taken, and how quickly life goes by.
Sure, it may be natural that once you hit middle school and puberty takes its toll that you realize how terribly embarrassing your parents are and how much you can’t bear to be within a ten foot radius of them, (which is more than obvious to them with every eye roll and lousy “whatever” you respond to them with), but I miss that kind of closeness I used to have with my parents. The kind where when we’d go on tedious road trips we would pass the time by singing along with my dad’s old “Greatest hits of 1974” c.d., roaring about “smoking in the boys room” thanks to Brownsville Station and pleading “Billy, don’t be a hero” along with Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, as we turned the radio up louder than our voices could reach so that we could maintain the illusion that we had perfected some kind of odd harmony.
Those were the times when I’d sit in the backseat of our Dodge Durango and watch my dad singing the songs of his time and admire how fun he was to be around. He was the strongest man in the world, who had the most beautiful wife in the world. When I was in his presence I felt invincible and protected.
That’s why, on December 26th, 1998, the day that my brother and his oldest son, Brennan, passed away and I saw my daddy crying, I realized that maybe my he wasn’t the superman I had thought him to be. And that scared me because if he wasn’t, then who was?
I remember going through the motions of my first funeral experience, unfortunately due to my brother’s illness, and I remember how scared I was because he was my big brother and the concept of never seeing him again or talking to him felt like the end of the world. Although we had to go to Children’s hospital to visit him all the time, he was a good big brother, always taking me to the hospital’s playroom and letting me eat the dessert that came with his putrid hospital meals. He always told me “I love you” before I left the hospital with my parents and he always stuck up for me. That’s why my 8-year-old heart struggled to understand what was happening when my mother told me God had decided to take him to a better place.
I questioned this “better place called Heaven” because my brother was always smiling, always telling me jokes, and always very happy when I saw him. “How could it get any better than that?” I wondered. Of course, I was almost too young to understand what my mom had meant until I heard the song that played at his funeral. That song, On Eagle’s Wings, had swept down from this place called heaven and reassured me that everything really was going to be okay. This song was God’s explanation of how my brother was taken to fly on an eagle’s wings, soaring over the vast earth to guard my family, comfort my innocent heart and dry my father’s tears. I remember my dad was on my right side and my sister was on my left that day in church as we held hands while God sang to us his gift. This was the first time I realized God existed and I was comforted to realize that he was the superman I had seen through my father and that my brother had become my guardian angel, raised up on eagle’s wings.
Though my faith may have faded for a while since that time, as my engagements evolved from playing tag with the neighborhood kids, coming home with grass stains for my mom to wash out, to spending Friday nights trying on ridiculous outfits with my friends and discovering the ups and downs of the high school dating scene, experiencing the “true love” of my first considerable boyfriend, (who turned out to be not-so-noteworthy), I have come to terms that it’s okay to have doubts, but in my life, my faith in God is the strongest weapon I have against hardships because it has yet to fail me. I’ve noticed myself thanking God for so many beautiful things in my life, and I’ve also realized that I’m flying on those same eagle’s wings alongside my brother.
As I flip further through my box of cluttered, but cherished “remember-whens,” I thumb through a collection of poses with my grandma and pappy and I have to laugh. These aged photographs take me back, again, to my childhood, and bless me with some of my greatest memories; dancing to the polka music that caroled through the muffled speakers of my pappy’s ancient radio as I stood on his feet, placing my childish hands into his rough palms, allowing him to sway me to the sounds as I held on tight and followed his lead. Memories of my pappy and I building a red wooden birdhouse together because he told me that when the birds chirped it sounded just like they were cheering my name, “Bridg-et! Bridg-et!” And then I remember how special I felt when he let me follow his navy Bonneville to the park with the purple playground on my baby blue bicycle, which of course had handle-bar tassels and kaleidoscope beads on the rims of the wheels that cackled as I rode. It made me feel like a big girl, as though I weren’t so undersized in the hustle of the adult world around me, which made my young heart proud to be a part of that moment.
Then I thumb past a glossy, Walgreens-developed photograph of my Grandma Pivik. In this picture, she’s laughing uncontrollably and it’s evident through the redness of her cheeks how her belly must have ached from the comical hysteria that lingered in the car ride during which I snapped the photograph. We were riding home from another trip to the mall, my grandma, mom and me, and I was positioned in the backseat, behind my mom, the driver, and my grandma who had offered to let me sit shotgun. I had made my grandma laugh, which was easy to do, and abruptly decided that I wanted to remember her ¬¬¬¬ laugh forever. So, I pulled out the disposable camera that was buried in my purse, reached ahead with my lanky arms and snapped the shot in an accidentally perfect off-centered frame, of which my grandma was oblivious to, because she was blind. I have saved this photograph on every drive of my computer and developed it several times so that I never lose that image of one of the greatest people I have ever known.
My grandmother loved me to death. She was so proud of the young lady I was developing into and praised every movement I made. To her, I was a princess and that’s just how she made me feel. We could talk on the phone for hours, which she loved since, for a couple years after my pappy passed, she was too damn stubborn to move out of their Springdale home, despite her handicap and loneliness. After she finally moved in with my family as her health declined, we spent a lot of time together. We’d watch television shows together and I’d explain what was going on whenever the dialogue wasn’t enough to help her understand. We’d get dropped off at the mall together, and I’d escort her around, our arms linked together like a friendship bracelet, going from store to store, describing to her the vibrant patterns and textures on the clothes I would browse through. The best part about taking her to the mall was that she’d always let me buy one thing that wasn’t on the sale rack in my favorite childhood store. My grandma was also always on my side and whenever I was in trouble with my parents she’d talk sense into them for me.
It was the small things that made my appreciation for her grow. It was the walks around the block that we’d go on for a breath of fresh air, the crisp wind pleasing her inadequate senses, or the times we spent sitting on her front porch, surrounded by untamed rose bushes blowing bubbles and talking about anything spontaneous. It was her telling me how beautiful I was after touching my face and running her feeble fingers through my long brown hair, allowing physical feeling to substitute for her weak eyes. I admired her strength in battling her handicap and I’d try to help her see, as best I could, offering vivid descriptions of anything that caught her curiosity. For this she used to thank me and tell me how when she goes to heaven, her eyesight will be like it was before diabetes took its toll on her body, depriving her of the magic of watching her grandchildren play in her front yard or her sons and daughter growing into older adults. She used to tell her family how she wanted Amazing Grace to play at her funeral as a reminder that she was blind, but could now see. And it did. It was played as a beautiful reminder of how she had gone to fly on eagles’ wings into a majestic heaven, dancing for joy as she watched her family grow together on earth.
The closeness that existed between my grandmother and I taught me a lot about life; to appreciate my health and blessings, to love my family and to find the good that dwells in all people. And now, more than ever before, I’m finding that I’ve been doing just that.
As I continue to peruse through my shoebox of remember-whens, digging deeper into my favorite photographs, I find a more recent image, less tattered from lack of time spent among the collection, featuring all of the women of my family, myself in the center. This photograph was taken at my cousin’s intimate wedding shower last summer in Savannah, Georgia, (quite possibly my favorite place in the United States), and reminds me of what a strong bond my family has formed, welcoming its new members and building incessant friendships. This picture reminds me of the Quint family traditions and takes me to Christmas Eves spent at my aunt’s house in Lancaster, PA. The scene I imagine is boisterous and friendly. All of my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and relatives are gathered around the outdoor fire pit on my aunt’s family constructed deck, enclosed by her beautifully welcoming home and wooded landscape of pines and rocks, frosted over from the bitter December weather. In this scene we’re huddled in our heaviest winter gear, chained together for warmth, the smoke of my uncle’s cigar rising around us and the sounds of our voices echoing among the timber and the bordering Amish farm. We’ll sing any song that comes to mind, but my favorite has always been Piano Man, the strong masculine voices of my father and his brothers and my cousins almost overbearing the melody of the females, harmonizing an alluring anthem glorious enough to be vocalized in the presence of an angel. And in this simple moment, holding this photograph in my hands and reminiscing about Christmases gone by, I am flying on eagles’ wings.
My compilation of remember-whens and antiquated photographs has been expanding for eighteen years now and I’m finally in the process of creating some kind of lifetime souvenir out of my childhood memories and Kodak moments. From the time my mother and father began developing and collecting photographs and memories from my “firsts” as an infant and my mischievous years as a toddler, I have created so many incredible memories. I have grown closer to my family, experienced heartache and loss, and have been challenged by and mended by my faith. I have been touched by the words of a powerful gift from God and have discovered the feeling, the one that I love, of flying on an eagle’s wings throughout the beautiful life I have been blessed with. I have learned to appreciate my well-being and I have formed indestructible bonds with extraordinary people that will always remain fastened close in the vessels of my growing heart. I have become confident throughout my early experiences that I am raised upon eagle’s wings, borne upon the breath of dawn to shine like the sun, and gracefully held in the palm of His hand, a pedestal from which I can never be removed. Throughout the reminiscing I have done as a captivated scrapbooker, I have realized that I am bound to unborn years of new beginnings, stronger relationships, and deeper experiences that will only strengthen my character. Beyond challenges and achievements to come, I will continue to fly upon eagles’ wings, making memories to dedicate to my collection of remember-whens, because after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.