The Modern Day Jonathan Livingston Seagulls
You might be old enough to remember the book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach and published in 1970. Or if you’ve never read it, a quick partial synopsis: It is the story of a young seagull that lived amongst a flock of seagulls whose sole purpose was to forage for food in order to survive. The gulls in the flock would spend their days fighting for scraps of food left on the beach by humans or, flying low, close to the water, scouring the seas and diving in for fish when they found a candidate for dinner.
But Jonathan was a different kind of seagull. He was more interested in flight than fight. He wanted to fly high among the clouds in order to discover what lay beyond the old familiar hunting grounds. However, his wings were not yet strong enough to take him as high as he dreamed of flying and he spent many days crashing into the water or onto the shore as he tried flying beyond his capacity.
The other seagulls thought Jonathan was a bit crazy. Didn’t he realize that life was about survival and the only way to survive was by staying on the beach or flying close to the water? Didn’t he realize that fish were not to be found in the clouds? What was he thinking? And why would they want to join him in his fruitless endeavors to fly higher than they could see? “No thank you! You have shamed the flock. Go off and fly by yourself,” they told him, “and leave us to our work.” And he was banished from the flock.
Now, because Jonathan was indeed a different kind of seagull, he was undeterred by this rejection. He was happy to be by himself, flying higher and higher, faster and faster, learning aerobatics and breaking speed barriers no seagull from his flock had ever even imagined.
Jonathan eventually was met by two “shining” gulls, that came from another realm and took him into “a perfect dark sky” (heaven) where he learned how to fly even higher and faster with ease and grace, until he was ready to return to his flock and teach the others how to go beyond their perceived limitations.
I won’t recall the entire story here, but it goes on to contain themes on the importance of love and forgiveness, the willingness to open to new possibilities and that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.
Fast forward to today and the appearance of a new flock of seagulls. I call them Jonathan’s earthly descendants. I’m referring to the students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL., and the young generation of students from all over the world who have been mobilized into gun safety activism by the recent mass shooting at that school on February 14, 2018. In a period of five weeks after the shooting that killed 17 of their fellow students, these young people organized a successful March For Our Lives, that took place in over 800 cities throughout the world. Turnout was estimated to be between 1.2 and 2 million people, making it one of the largest protest marches in American history.
Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg are two of the student activists who have played a key part in the mobilization of a national movement around this issue. They and their generation are the modern day Jonathan Livingston Seagulls, come to teach the rest of us how to fly beyond our fear, old beliefs and conditioning. They are the leaders we actually don't deserve, but I thank God they have arrived. We have left them a mess to clean up, but maybe that's exactly what was needed in order to have them wake up and rise up.
They will not be bound by what the older seagulls (the rest of us) think is possible. They know that to reach their potential they must break through thousands of years of hardened beliefs that have kept the flock flying low and close to the shore, fighting each other for scraps, in fear and struggling to survive.
One could only pray to have their children express such courage and authenticity, to be so grounded in such a deep knowingness of who they are and why they are here.
They are the drift-busters, the mind-shifters, the change-makers, the paradigm-breakers. They have come to teach a new way to live together on a shrinking planet with dwindling resources. And that way is based on love, connection, courage, inclusiveness, and a commitment to marching forward together until their goal is reached.
Some call it “youthful fantasy and idealism.” Some say they will slowly back down and disappear back into the drift when they’re met by indifference or downright hatred from the systems of power they seek to tranform. Perhaps it’s my own “youthful fantasy and idealism”, but call it what you will, my money is on them.
May we be worthy of their leadership and may they be worthy stewards of the journey that lies before them. Godspeed, Jonathan. Show us the way. We are with you.