68. Gift of Wings

I have been waiting patiently for an idea to present itself for a blog. Before Christmas, I thought. Nope. After Christmas then? Nope. Surely there would be inspiration for New Year… I’ve found I can’t force writing a blog as that makes it really hard work and somehow the magic just doesn’t happen in the same way. And then something miraculous happened and a whole load of ideas suddenly exploded into my head, and I couldn’t get to my laptop quickly enough. I love the way a whole chain of events can unfold as a direct result of something apparently small and innocuous – and I have one such chain of amazing events to recount.

We know that words are powerful tools, and as a great admirer of good writing I love becoming involved in a book that turns out to be un-put-downable. Bookish types amongst you may have noticed H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. This was the unlikely winner of the Costa Book Awards for 2015 and I was entranced by the review, so bought myself a copy way back in the spring. Now that is a weird choice for me, to be sure. I have never been a great fan of birds – at least, not anywhere near me – as they seem very distant and I can’t imagine having a bond or a cuddle with one, and I don’t like a lot of wing flapping. Rather than the bird content, it was the subject matter that interested me as the author describes how she copes with the heart-wrenching grief of losing her father through bonding with a hawk. Being no stranger to grief, I was fascinated and consequently became completely hooked. By the end of the book I realised I had unwittingly become a fan of birds of prey – and in fact started noticing birds all over the place as if they had only just landed on the planet. I don’t mean blackbirds or gulls (of which we have zillions round here); no, I am captivated by the majesty and bearing of hawks and eagles and the nutty way that owls can turn their heads all the way round. I started to take notice of the swan families down at Mudeford Quay, then we saw the swans at Arundel, floating serenely on the moat around the castle. They became such a focus in my life that I turned to the lovely Judy Hall for help in understanding the symbolism as she is really good at all that stuff. She sent me an amazing link that describes the presence of a swan in your life as an arrow pointing to fluidity, intuition, dreaming on other levels and creativity. And:

“The concept of partnership is further expressed on a divine level in Hinduism, wherein the swan graces vibrant traditions as the Hamsa bird. In the Saundarya Lahari (translated: “Waves of Beauty,” it’s a text filled with beautiful mantras from the Hindu perspective) two swans (Ham and Sa) pair together, swimming around in the divine mind “living on honey from the blooming lotus of knowledge“. Isn’t that a lovely concept?”

So much in my life has changed since being ill, and I find that I am now more willing to dream, and to learn and to be open, because it was brought home to me just how precious life is and how abruptly it can end. I have much to do, and the creative juices are flowing like crazy; the swan symbolism is perfect.

Then a couple of weeks ago I had the most extraordinary dream. You know – the kind where you wake up disappointed that it was just a dream and you are back in the real world? I was at some kind of country fair, where a falconer was flying birds of prey. (That book obviously had more of an effect on me than I realised!) I asked if there was an owl I could see – for some reason it had to be an owl – and the falconer produced a beautiful pale cream one for me to hold and told me I could fly her. I love the way you get super powers in dreams :-). I magically ‘knew’ how to fly her and after several circuits round the trees she flew back to me. Then – and this is the best bit which gets even more amazing further down – she sidled up my arm and nuzzled into my neck. WOW! I had no idea they even did that! Then I woke up, disappointed as hell that I had been snatched from such an incredible experience. I couldn’t get her out of my head and started looking up falconry experience days as well as excitedly relaying it to Judy and checking back on that same website to understand the symbolism. Actually, just think of Hedwig in Harry Potter and you pretty much have it.

On Wednesday I told Stephen about the link I had found for a falconry experience day as a MASSIVE hint for my birthday. Which would be the longest wait ever as my birthday isn’t until July.

On Thursday (New Year’s Eve) we dithered around and eventually decided to go into work for a couple of hours on the proviso that we would leave early enough to get some food in the slow cooker for Lyn, John and Ben who were coming to welcome in the New Year with us. We knew the chances of that happening were about zero as we both get so lost in work that we are nearly always late leaving – hence the dithering. So despite our best attempts, the inevitable happened and we ended up belting out the door waaay too late, and we still had to call in at the pet superstore on the way home. They keep sending us ridiculously good money-off vouchers and it would have been rude not to use them before they expired. We practically ran into the store, where I ground almost immediately to a halt as I came eyeball to eyeball (well, nearly) with a beautiful creamy brown owl. I stared at it in total disbelief, then looked at Stephen and said something really deep, like, “It’s an owl!”

Aaargh! We were in such a hurry and this was torture. Obviously the owl wasn’t alone, and in the precious few moments I had, I managed to find out that the birds (there was another one further along the table) were being exhibited to help raise money for charity. £2.00 and I could have my photo taken holding the owl, except my phone was in the car, I was clean out of cash, and we were LATE already. I had enough time to stroke the owl then we were back out the door for our appointment with the slow cooker.

Back home, food safely slow-cooking, the time I had planned to use doing ‘Something Else’ (maybe a bit more work?) rapidly turned into a very small window of opportunity to get back to the store to see the owl. I mentioned this to Stephen as the pull was so strong, and total treasure that he is, he phoned to make sure the owls would still be there should I choose to hare back down the dual carriageway. I did and they were. I borrowed the £2 from Matt and here is the result:


And then all kinds of magic happened. After a lovely conversation with Debbie, who runs the welfare trust with her husband Mike, and a lot of strokes with and holding of ‘Biscuit’ the barn owl, I was about to leave when Debbie mentioned ‘Experience Days’, which are run by Mike. Mike had previously been talking to another visitor to the stand but he became free, so we started talking and discovered a whole host of amazing things, one of which is that he takes the birds into hospices to see children. He told me that Biscuit is very different when he is with children, particularly very sick ones. He told me that Biscuit is very calm and sits on their arms really quietly. He told me that Biscuit sidles gently up their arms AND NUZZLES INTO THEIR NECKS JUST LIKE IN MY DREAM. I absolutely promise you I am not making this up. I told him about my dream, and we talked about shamanic symbolism and how important all this is for cancer patients, especially as sometimes we don’t want to – or even can’t – talk about the cancer. In fact we want to talk about just about anything else, which is how this blog got started. Mike told me that sitting quietly with the birds unlocks the secrets of abused or bullied children, of dementia patients who can’t otherwise communicate, of depressed people who struggle to find meaning in their lives. My mind was buzzing with possibilities. Cancer is a terrifying and isolating experience, and I firmly believe that any contact which relieves that isolation will help with recovery and healing. There is so much that could be done and I am so excited. Finally my time was up and I had to go, as did he. The birds were safely stowed ready for their journey back to the aviary and I had some faster food to cook.

Mike and I will talk again – and with any luck I might get to hold Biscuit again. Isn’t life sometimes just truly amazing?

Sending warm wishes for a healthy 2016

Margaret xx



About Margaret Cahill

After diagnosis of Mantle Cell Lymphoma in 2013, I started this blog to stay in touch with friends, family, and and an ever increasing network of lovely people who sent me healing. The readership increased and I ended up blogging for all I was worth to try and stay sane through the chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. Then after I went into remission (thankfully) I was enjoying the writing so much that I have carried on, and the blog seems to have become a bit of a resource for people, which is lovely. The original year of blogs have now been made into a book, Under Cover of Darkness: How I Blogged my Way Through Mantle Cell Lymphoma. It fills in a lot of the gaps between the blogs, and the tone falls somewhere between graveyard humour and explicit details of chemo treatments. I do hope you enjoy it :-) Mxx
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3 Responses to 68. Gift of Wings

  1. Susan Joiner says:

    Thankyou Margaret for this beautiful piece about the owl.
    A ‘rescued’ barn owl once lived here in the house with us – he slept in a large ever-open cage, was often awake during the daytime and when we went out, would fly to a perch by the window to watch for our return. If we sat in an armchair he would land on it’s (and our) arms and gently hold a finger with those powerful talons and yes he nuzzled our necks and yes the experience was magic. This information re the ‘healing’ effect of Biscuit and other such birds on the sick and the vulnerable has been a revelation.. yet also, I am not at all surprised. I shall do my own detective work to trace Biscuit and his friends,
    Love Sue J xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sue, thanks for the lovely story :-). If you can get into the Christchurch Pets at Home on Barrack Road on Sunday, the Owls will be back then – not sure what time but you could always call to check. The welfare centre isn’t generally open to the public, but if you pop down to meet Mike and Debbie and the Owls you could probably arrange a visit. Xx


  2. I loved this and especially how the ‘story’ unfolde along the way. These connections through observing and sensing/receiving in a different way have been very much in my mind for some time. In particular as this relates to the non human world. The therapeutic value of all this probably applies almost universally in our world at this time.

    Liked by 1 person

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