This morning on the way to school my youngest daughter asked me, “Do you remember the time that we saw all of the Sea Gulls in the sky?” It was an amazing spectacle. One of the biggest “WOW!” events that has ever happened to me to be sure…but they weren’t sea gulls, they were Pelicans. Other than blue birds and humming birds, pelicans have always been my favorite – they are ancient…and strong. They are powerful and survivors. They can be with others or be solitary. They dive head first without fear. At times fly against the current. They soar high above noise and commotion with order and confidence. The following event is true. It was witnessed by me, my daughter, my sister and my niece and hundreds if not thousands of strangers at the beach. As with many of my older writings I have revised this article, but the message of hope is still what I wish to convey. I wrote this originally in June 2011.~
Twenty one days. That is how long it has been since I had an experience that seemed so marvelous to me that I couldn’t wait to share it. I actually ran in from the beach, ran upstairs to the room that I was sharing with my nine-year old daughter, dug through one of my many bags filled with stuff I take everywhere but rarely need any of it, until I found what I was looking for… I dug it out, pried it up from the bottom… from under my beach novels I hadn’t cracked, the laptop and notebook that had been ignored, the camera which never takes pictures, cords and plugs for who knows what… I pulled it free… a new unmarred yellow legal pad of paper with tiny blue horizontal lines just waiting to hold up and record the thoughts I didn’t want to forget.
I had brought the paper along just in case my brain decided to work…or go to a deeper level beyond the amount of synapse firing required to prepare food, clean house or keep up with busy schedules. I MUCH prefer to actually write down my thoughts as opposed to type them out. It may have to do with the fact that I never learned to type (go figure!!! I have a journalism degree from the University of Georgia, but I don’t know how to type! Pitiful.) Anyway, my brain only seems to work in starts and fits these days, so I like to have some paper handy if I should have a moment of “a start”… There can’t be a Middle or an End after all without a “Start”. The problem is,that I have too much on my mind that, if I let it, could cause me angst and worry. If I open up my mind very often to think on “deep things”, I might find myself in a place where I get bogged down and stuck with all sorts of unpleasantries. So, since I can’t always control the negative business that tries to come in and take up big chunks of my mental day, my way of dealing with what could sometimes feel overwhelming is to just “close up shop”. I purposefully lock the door and put up the “Gone” sign… I’m not “Gone Fishing” or “Gone out to Lunch”… where I usually have Gone is to the one place I feel most safe and secure about my abilities. When a person does a thing all day everyday there isn’t just muscle memory involved, but also “memory” memory involved and it keeps my mind busy and keeps me in a good place. So, I go “Mommy – ing”. If I am not “Mommy-ing” my own children, I am usually “Mommy-ing” someone elses. When I am busy with THAT, I can 98.3% of the time be assured that my brain will stay in a good place. So that is what I have been doing… this summer, this spring, this winter, this fall… and one day I will master how to keep unpleasant things from my mind. My mind is strong. I am usually good at keeping on the sunny side of life… but there are moments that I wish I could learn to master. I wish I could learn how to color the moments of gray a bright happy color… or have the power to blow an approaching dark cloud away with a laugh.
That is kind of what happened my final day at the beach… but I couldn’t write on my expectant legal pad until I found a writing utensil! I searched around and scavenged a pen from it’s hiding place by the telephone. The pen was hidden below the telephone book; a booklet on local attractions; a tattered print out about house rules, trash day, sea turtle nesting, how to lock the weird deck doors by lifting up the handle before turning the lock… and a reminder to make sure the refrigerator was firmly closed. Little did I know that the pen had an insufficient amount of ink to finish all that I wanted to write… my intention was to type a blog later that night anyway… after a few more hours in the sun… and I went back outside because I didn’t want to miss anything else that I might be supposed to see!
It all happened on the last day of our annual family beach trip… a trip that involves an almost nine-hour drive, a four bedroom house full of anywhere from 3 adults and 7 children to 6 adults and 8 children. Grammy and Daddy Bill, my unbelievably generous parents, have footed the bill for a week-long “vacation” at one of the most beautiful beaches ( we think!) for about 18 years now! Amelia Island… just north of Jacksonville, Florida. It has everything a beach should have… wide stretches of hard packed sand perfect for playing football, frisbee, building castles, turning flips, hunting for shells or sand dollars or starfish… riding fat tired bikes, reading novels, or taking two to ten-mile walks ( that is what I like most to do). The water is clean, but not clear. Granted, the gulf coast is gorgeous, but I don’t want to see the creatures that could sting or bite or amputate me or my loved ones. Ignorance really is sometimes bliss… and my babies are in a land of bliss when they are out riding and diving under swells that are at your waist one minute and over your head the next. Huge waves rolling in… crashing over the big kids while the smaller kids play in the shallows. The water gets deep gradually… no quick drop offs… no frightening undertow. It is a trip that the children and my older sister LIVE for… My parents love the time with the grandkids and have taken to staying in a hotel room a couple of blocks away each night we are there. (They leave at bedtime and come back before things get started the next day. LUCKY BUGGERS!!!). Often my dad will bring Starbucks coffee in the morning… that helps. And then we all get busy with the preparations for the day… these include feeding and lathering up kids. When the children were little, the application of varying degrees of sunscreen or sunblock based on the latheree’s shade of pigmentation could take an hour… there are blonds that need BLOCK and brunettes that need SCREEN. My mom and sister and I would often joke about just buying a couple of plastic baby pool and filling them up with sunscreen and making everyone wallow around in them like pigs in a puddle until they and all of their parts were well covered. Now, fortunately, almost everyone is capable of feeding themselves and sunscreening themselves, so the adult jobs are immensely easier… We have more time to walk and read. Teenagers, I think, are awesome.
I say that the kids LOVE the trip… and my sister LOVES the trip… there are certainly parts about the trip that I love too… seeing the kids so happy is well worth the effort. But to call it a “Vacation” ? Hhhhhmmm. I don’t know. Even in a good year that word is a big stretch… a time of respite? rest? relaxation? Hhhhhmmm. Can’t say those would be the words I would use to describe my time at the beach.
But this is what happened…
It was the last day and I had been feeling a bit out of sorts all week. I will spare you, and me, all of the details… this is a story about a walk. I started out around lunch time. The kids were in the house and my sister was sitting on the back porch. I love to walk bare-footed, so I was headed down to go as far as I could get away with before I was needed or expected back… or before I rubbed blisters on my toes. I went out on the back porch and was about to head down the steps and onto the long wooden walkway to the beach, I turned and told my sister that I felt like I was in “No Man’s Land”. I had left what I had known for twenty years… what I had known for my entire adult life… and I had NO INTENTION of EVER going back… not even peeking over my shoulder. I could see very clearly what was before me… where I was going and how to get there. I saw it as a straight path. An easy walk…. it should be the easiest thing ever! A wide-open, blue-skied, not a cloud in sight way… no curves or road blocks or pot-holes. My future could be, should be, would be as beautiful and smooth as the sand on the beach. If I could, I would sprint there. I couldn’t wait to get there. But just as the fishing pier, and the block shaped pink stucco hotel, and the house that looks like a light house and the enormous blue topped condos all seem so close… the distance to a destination at the beach can be terribly deceptive. It seemed so close, so attainable… something that seemed like it should take no time at all to get to… but it had taken me years. And I still was not there. For a person whose natural state is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, I was worn out. Just a walk on the beach where I spot a point I want to get to, a destination… but it takes forever and I am so weary …but I am determined! What I saw before me as I stared ahead didn’t look so much like a gorgeous sea-shore, but like never-ending sand… It made me think of a desert and wondering lost for so many years, yet being so close. Amazing that after Moses led the Israelites out of captivity, many of those former slaves of Egypt actually wanted to go back to slavery! They were promised a land of milk and honey, but didn’t trust that it was true. They doubted God would provide. They worried and fretted. They didn’t know where they were going.
I don’t know if it would be more frustrating not to know where I am going, or to know and not be able to get there.
“O you of little faith? So do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:30-34
If there is one thing I pray I never lose, it is unending, undying faith. I have faith,I do. But sometimes I get frustrated too.
The desert full of mirages is an empty, melancholy place. And I hate that kind of place. I would rather feel anything than empty and helpless… and God knows that! So, after I expressed how I was feeling to my sister, for the first time putting it into words because it was just then at that moment that I understood it myself… and after she gave me a long hug, I headed down to the beach for a walk like the ones earlier in the week. A walk where I am looking for pelicans ( because I love those guys)… and I am looking for dolphins, and I am trying to not listen to anything other than the sound of the surf… and I am often sprinting… or walking with my eyes closed. But this day was different. I KNOW that God has a sense of humor, and that He was just waiting for me to figure out my “problem”… so that I would AGAIN understand that He doesn’t want us to take things, ourselves, or our “drama” called this life too seriously… And that in His time He makes all things beautiful.
A variety of things came my way on that walk that made me smile. It was a reminder that it is ok to be “deep” but not to be “heavy”. “Deep” makes us feel… feel for others… care. “Heavy” makes us blind and grasping and no good to anyone unless they want to be drug down and drown with us.
I was walking along with my eyes closed, feeling the sun on my face, when I abruptly opened my eyes and looked down just in time to see a PERFECT, exquisite sand dollar… right on my path… one step away. It was the first whole sand dollar any of us had seen all week. It had a beautiful design that looked like a quilted daisy on both its front and back. My favorite flowers are gerbera daisies. I picked it up and smiled. I carried it with me. Still smiling, I saw a sea-gull suspended in mid-air right in front of me. He wasn’t flapping his wings, he was riding on the breeze. He was waiting patiently until he spotted what he wanted, and then he plunged… spinning… diving down into the water to get his prize. I remembered a verse:
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:26,27
And then I saw a cloud that looked like a big happy face… crinkled eyes, a mouth wide open in laughter and on either side were wispy cirrus clouds outstretched across the sky. That cloud formation stayed intact for many minutes and I just had to keep looking up at it with the dollar, that was worth no money, in my hand and laugh. Then there were the little cluster of clam shell creatures that were slowly digging holes in the sand. I had often seen the holes that they left behind… but I never knew what made them… so they showed me. It was a personal demonstration. Then there was a black lab playing in a tidal pool. He was bouncing up and down trying to catch guppies. He looked like a kangaroo. That is significant because it reminded me of the strange dream I had a few years ago about a kangaroo. It was a terrifying dream, at first. The kangaroo was a huge, powerful ” Unknown”. In my dream I was frolicking in a wide-open rolling hill meadow with my two dingo dogs. Without warning a massive kangaroo leapt over a hill and the dogs started chasing the Gigantic creature. They took turn-about chasing and being chased. It was terrifying to watch. I didn’t know what the kangaroo was going to do… I was frozen with nowhere to go, so I laid down where I was and closed my eyes. Within a few minutes my dogs were back by my side, panting, and the Kangaroo seemed to be gone. My relief only lasted for a moment though because then I felt the huge vibration it made as it bounded toward us. My fear was that we would be crushed…but just as it got within inches of were we sat on the ground, the kangaroo stopped. It bent down right above my pet female dog and gently placed his forehead to hers. They were together, unmoving, for a solid minute. And then, matching smiles stretched across the face of each… a look of complete contentment… I knew that the scary thing was nothing to fear at all. In fact, at the end of the dream, when I woke up, I had an inexplicable sense of calm and a Peace. The kind that Passes all Understanding I even wrote the dream down because 1) I don’t usually remember my dreams and 2) this was the best dream I had ever had. I knew from that time on that everything was going to be alright. The dream was so significant to me that I shared it with the man who was then my husband. He told me it was stupid. The dream, the significance of what it meant to me then, and what it means to me now, and the feeling that everything is going to be alright is still with me. He is not.
Anyway, back to the walk…I continued along, smiling, knowing that melancholy did not suit me at all… Life had given me reasons to smile even when I didn’t think I felt like it… and all I had to do was open my eyes. The last and most amazing thing of all happened that night at dinner. My sister and I decided to take our youngest children to a nearby restaurant and eat outside on the beach while my mom took the older children down town. All week I had been lamenting the fact that I had not seen my friends the pelicans. Where could they be? They had always given me such a sense of unexplainable happiness. I had even asked God as I took my earlier walk to send me some of those guys as a sign… to give me strength…to KNOW that He heard me and was with me. But except for a few fleeting sightenings of one or two here and there, they had been a no-show. But on the last night, as my sister and I talked about “deep” things and our little girls played on the restaurant’s playground…On that last night at the beach after my afternoon of thankfulness… almost to the point of giddiness…there was a LINE OF PELICANS in the setting sun sky! Well over a hundred… probably two hundred pelicans! The locals were in shock. Nobody had ever seen that many pelicans at one time… and they were all flying in a line. I jumped up from the outside table we were sitting and ran down to the beach. I watched them for several minutes.I couldn’t believe it! I just couldn’t believe it. It took several minutes for all of them to fly overhead… they flew away… an undulating line for as far as the eye could see… waving to me. Saying both hello and goodbye. Letting me on GRAND SCALE that they were indeed there. I was not only smiling, I was laughing and clapping my hands like I had just seen the best show on earth. After they were gone, I stood there a few more minutes and continue to smile – looking up at the sun- setting sky. My hands still clasped. Like all good things, it was well worth the wait. I am blessed. And happy. Thank you, God.
I did read another book from my favorite Og Mandino the week that I was at the beach. I will leave you with this quote.
“Now I know that the wise man never makes goals of immense proportions. Those plans that are giant in size he calls dreams and cradles them close to his heart where others may not see or mock. Then he greets each morning with goals for the day only and he makes certain that all he has planned is completed before he sleeps. Soon the accomplishments of each day are gathered one atop another, like the ant piles his grains of sand, and eventually a castle is erected large enough to house any dream. In truth, this is not difficult to accomplish once I have learned to harness my impatience and deal with life a day at a time. I can do it. I will do it.” Amen.