On Tuesday November 12, 2002 our son Mitchell Xavier, aged 22, died. We were absolutely devastated by this terrible and unnecessary loss. We were immediately surrounded by friends and family in the next few days as a gesture of support. On Sunday, November 17 of the same year, a Memorial for Mitch was held at the Church in the Forest in Pebble Beach. It was a beautiful memorial. It was not a planned event; there hadn’t been any time. Every speaker that day covered, without ever discussing it among us, a different aspect of Mitchell’s life. His teachers talked about his desire to know what mattered, about his intelligence. His friends talked about his intensity in sports, skate boarding, snowboarding, bungy chord jumping, others addressed his creativity in music and arts, his intelligence on building different projects. His girl friend about his aloofness and his beauty. His uncle about his physical attributes; an aunt wrote a beautiful poem. His grandfather thanked all that came and emphasized that Mitch had jumped the line and broken the order of the oldest dying first. Another aunt spoke of the soul and the spiritual seekers.
After all the speakers, I spontaneously got up and I spoke of something that happened to me the morning after I found out about his death:
I would like to share an experience I had the day after. I don't know if it has any meaning.
I went outside and a shadow fell over me. I looked up and a Red Tail Hawk was slowly circling around me, with his wings spread wide. I could almost touch it. I don't know if hawks can smile, but this one was smiling and looking straight at me. It circled around me three times, just out of reach. I extended my arm inviting the hawk to come closer but it beat its powerful wings and disappeared over the trees. I wished with all my soul the Hawk would come back. And it came back, flying over the trees, but this time circling me high. It circled three times again and then it soared. It flew straight up. Swooooooosh, higher and higher. As it went higher it got smaller, until it went so high, I couldn't see it any more… And this time I knew he wouldn't come back.
The church was filled to capacity and in a rather strange way, after the memorial, my wife and I found ourselves alone in my car driving home. She said to me, “It is a real tragedy that we don’t praise young people like Mitchell was praised at the memorial. We shouldn’t wait until they are dead. We should have a celebration of life and let people know just how wonderful they truly are.”
That day, more than three hundred and fifty people gathered at our house. It seemed that it should have been Mitchell’s wedding, not his funeral. I determined, that if I could, every Saturday after Thanksgiving from now on, I would organize a party for all of my sons’ friends and their friends. We would select a few special people and praise them. We would make a party to celebrate life and how great youth is.
That afternoon there were a few more special moments that I would like to share with you:
A woman approached me in the kitchen. She said to me, "You don't know me, and I didn't know Mitch. My son was a friend of Mitch’s and he called me; since he couldn't go to the Memorial, he asked me to go in his place. There was a very grey cloud hanging over my life and during the Memorial this cloud was lifted. This darkness was replaced by light! I wanted to tell you this, but I couldn't bring myself to come and invade the privacy of your house. So I decided to go home. As I was heading towards my house a hawk started flying right in front of my windshield. At that moment I decided to turn around and come here and share it with you. That is all. Thank you. I am leaving now."
"You can't leave now," I said knowing that in a few minutes she would be rewarded with some more optimism. "You must stay another fifteen minutes, please." I said as I lead her out to the back terrace that overlooks Carmel Valley. Our house is beautiful adobe Mexican style house wrapped around a hill with spectacular views of the Valley.
I had hired, with the help of Gary, a very dear friend, a helicopter to come over our house and fly around the property three times, symbolizing the flight of the hawk, as well as a tribute to my son Mitchell's dream of building a helicopter. I also thought back to Mitchell, his uncle, my wife’s brother who also died prematurely, shortly before my son Mitch’s birth. He had joined the army to become a helicopter pilot. That was his dream, so the symbolism was doubly intended. Unfortunately the army recruiters misled him; they didn't tell him he needed a college degree to be a pilot, so he only had a chance to works as a helicopter mechanic.
At three o'clock, the designated time of arrival of the helicopter, it appeared in the distance flying in the middle of the valley toward us. As the helicopter made its way towards us, overhead and coming from behind us, a hawk suddenly appeared flying at full speed racing towards the approaching helicopter to greet it. For a moment it seemed that the hawk would fly into the helicopter, but it passed about three hundred feet below it, and then turned left toward the neighboring hill. It seemed that the hawk was being intentionally humble and trying not to draw attention to itself, keeping a distance but respectfully letting me know that he was present. As the helicopter circled over us three times, the hawk made three big circles above the hill to the east of us. As soon as the helicopter finished its three circles and headed west, into the sun, the hawk flew east, and disappeared over the hill. It was incredible!
Later in the afternoon, a man approached me and said, "I want you to know that the hawk that greeted the helicopter was a blue tail, not a red tail hawk."
"Yes, I know," I responded amicably. "That was the other Mitch, Uncle Mitchell not Mitch," I smiled enigmatically, turned and left him standing in the beautiful warm afternoon. I wasn't going to allow him to ruin my experience.
This is the reason of why this event is called The Day of the Hawk. It is not intended to be a memorial for my son Mitchell. We want it to be a celebration of life and the greatness of human beings.
In order to make The Day of the Hawk more successful, I invite you to join and submit the name of someone that you yourself are willing to speak on his behalf and would like to praise him. You don’t need to submit a candidate to be praised to be able to join; you can join just to receive information, or to be asked to vote on different candidates that might have been submitted. Cooperation, financially or otherwise is welcome, and this will be used to make the day more special. The exact format of the event will probably be fine tuned over the next few years, but I feel that every year some very special thing be planned, like the helicopter fly by. It could be any number of things: a twenty one cannon salute, a fireworks display, the release of thousands of pigeons into the air, The Hell’s Angels driving by and so on. Send us suggestions.
All you need to do to join is sign up with your e-mail. You will receive information, news, and anything else that we feel is important as we develop The Day of the Hawk more.