Orange, VT. I went for a walk down to our local reservoir. One of the highlights of taking this walk during the past few weeks has been looking for the bald eagle that has taken up residence around this man-made body of water. They are truly beautiful birds and to see them in the wild is a treat. We don’t see very many of them, but every so often one decides to dwell in our town before moving on to what he must consider to be a more desirable neighborhood. The National Wildlife Foundation explains that, “Bald eagles like lakes—big lakes.” Our small body of water does not seem to be sufficient for this American symbol. For those of us who walk down to the water, we enjoy the fleeting sight while we can.
In a way, it seems that perhaps our reservoir and its eagle is an analogy for the American experience. For many of us who have grown up in small towns, we are drawn to the allure of the big city. We wonder if the big lake would be a better habitat than our small pond. The lights, the people, the excitement, and the money cause us to wonder if there is something out there that we don’t have here. Is there a part of the human experience that we are missing because we experience the night in the moonlight instead of the streetlight?
I will admit that I have had those thoughts. I wonder what it might be like to wake up in the city that never sleeps, to quote Frank Sinatra. I work for a relatively small, locally-owned insurance company. I wonder what it might be like to work for a multinational corporation, trying to climb the ladder that seems to always have a few more rungs added on top. I would be lying if I said that I never wondered what it might be like to leave the small pond that I have been brought up in and see what might happen elsewhere. Could there be something out there that I don’t have but could have? And, if I find whatever that is, could it be life-changing? Would it be my “true habitat”?
However, the question I inevitably have to come back to is what if my true habitat is actually here? What if I am not the bald eagle but am much more like the Canada geese that also makes their home in this same reservoir? They thrive in this habitat, and you can find a number of them just about any night you happen to be walking down the road. When I think that I have misjudged my habitat, maybe I have just misjudged what type of creature I am. If I am more like the Canada goose, then nothing is wrong with my habitat. It suits me. Looking for something else, instead of enjoying my present situation, will lead me to a less ideal place.
We have been constantly indoctrinated to believe that Progress is an undeniable good, and only a fool would stand in the way of change. Therefore, it is good to be the bald eagle, always searching for that larger lake that is a little bit bigger and better than our modest reservoir. Being the Canada goose, satisfied with the small, yet beautiful, reservoir, is frowned upon. “You are not living up to your potential.” “You need to broaden your horizons.” “There is a bigger world out there for you.” Progress must be made, or you are transgressing the golden rule of modernity.
The most important question then is not one of observation but rather one of introspection. It is not a matter of looking out critically at our habitat. Instead, it is a journey toward realizing who we are, and that who we are is going to determine where we fit in the world.
I enjoy seeing the bald eagle at the reservoir, and I will be sad when he departs for good, but realistically, it is not a good home to him. In fact, he is so much larger than all of the other birds we have flying around that he simply looks out of place. The bigger lake is where he needs to go. The geese are content to stay, but that makes sense because it is a home to them that fits their needs.
For those of us who are wondering how we can embrace localism and how we can help others realize the value that is to be gleaned from finding our place in this world, maybe the answer begins with this kind of simple introspection. We need to reject the myth of Progress that discourages us from ever being settled and content. There is always another promotion to gain, a larger house to buy, or a more prestigious social circle to join. This endless pursuit is destructive.
Nevertheless, there are some callings that will inevitably lead to larger lakes. If I felt called to be the Governor of my state, my attention could not be dedicated to just my small reservoir anymore, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is not wrong to be a bald eagle and to move on to something bigger; it is wrong to believe that the only way to be successful is to be a bald eagle. Deciding whether to move to something bigger can only be approached through honest evaluation, and this evaluative process has been tragically colored by our incredibly transient society. Moving on is not some measure of maturity. Instead, maturity is having the courage to listen to those who care about us and to reject society’s cult of Progress. Maturity is being able to conclude that you very well might be settled and content where you are, and that is a good, true, and beautiful thing.
Some of us are going to be happy watching the late summer sunset over the reservoir, and some are going to look for Sunset Boulevard. But just moving to Sunset Boulevard to make people think you have achieved something is not a sufficient reason to go there, and it is, in fact, a decision that is going to most likely have destructive consequences. Instead, let’s learn to be content with our place in this world. Perhaps we can learn from the wisdom of Charles Spurgeon who suggested, “Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, ‘Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows.’ Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good.”