Thursday, January 2, 2014

The ocean is an awful big place

I just spent ten days in Mexico. Amble beach action going on. And by that I mean, very little action, running or fitness occurring. Beach action consists of laying, reading, rotating in the sun and when you just can't recline any longer, walking. The last day in Mexico was spent on a beach nestled against the mighty Pacific ocean. After a few hours of rotisserie-ing my body in the sun, I decided to go on a stroll down the shore. I was just casually walking along, occasionally glancing over my right shoulder at the crashing waves, when I spotted a sad looking and deflated blow fish on the sand. I bent down and noticed the poor guy was still breathing. Being the rescuer that I am, I ran to the water, cupped my hands to form a bucket, scooped water up and ran back to the fish to give him a little relief. I have no idea what I hoped this would accomplish, but I quickly realized that this wasn't going to do a whole lot of good. Looking around for ideas, I spotted two smooth, palm sized rocks. New plan: scoop up the fish and set him back in the water. As I slowly carried him to the water, I projected emotions onto the fish. Surely I was scaring the crap out of him. He was frightened, but I knew he would thank me in a matter of moments- when his body was fully emerged in the cool salt water. But that didn't happen. I set him down and he did nothing. He rolled around and appeared to be apathetic about the whole encounter. Definitely not thankful for my effort. The surf wasn't doing either of us favors. As waves would crash, the fish would get washed ashore again, all but forcing me to scoop him up and place him back in the water, though each time further from shore, in hopes that he would be safe from the waves. After a few of this back and forth nonsense, I finally didn't see him come in with the tide. He had made it. Satisfied with my life saving efforts, I continued on with my walk.

As I left a trail of footprints in the sand, I started regretting the whole encounter. Perhaps I didn't save him. Maybe he knew that his time had come and beaching himself was how he wanted to go. And here I come, putting him right back to the place where he doesn't want to be- in an unforgiving ocean. I had taken my own feelings- the inescapable urge to help something suffering- and projected them onto this voiceless creature. With this in mind, I decided that if he was on the beach when I turned around, that I would keep walking, accept that not everything needs saving.

The fish had indeed returned to the shore. I bent down over him, saw his gills intermittently flaring out and then kept walking. I returned to my towel and remained there for another hour or so. As the sun was beginning to set, I decided to go for one more walk. I neared the spot where the blow fish had been earlier and noticed his absence. As luck would have it, something else took his place. A baby sea turtle. I couldn't believe it. I had to see if it was real. It couldn't be! It must be a toy. No other turtles were around. Surely if this an actual turtle people would have stopped and formed a little crowd. NatGeo would have suddenly materialized. I gently poked its side, like any seven year old would have done. Sure enough the little guy moved. Now, I don't know much about sea turtles, but what I do know makes me respect them. These creatures get a rough start to life. First, they have to break out of their egg and then clamor through thick sand- mind you they just hatched, so its not like they have a ton of strength.  Once they emerge from the nest, surely exhausted they then have to drag themselves across the beach, which relative to their size must be an incredibly daunting endeavor. If they survive the beach crawl without getting eaten by predators, their efforts are rewarded by getting slam with waves. Waves that will surely wash them back up the beach. They must swim through the surf to deeper "safer" waters, where they will most certainly encounter hungry animals looking for a small snack. Needless to say, turtles drew the short stick for life beginnings. All of this was running through my head as I stared at the very small and very tired little life. I wanted to help him to sea. I thought, "I'm bigger, I can get you to the ocean faster. You'll have a better chance if I help you." Then the blowfish came to mind. Would I be helping? Interfering with nature for my own desires, my own selfish need to avoid seeing suffering, might not be the best plan. I sat there, watching the little turtle fumble over his small paddle like limbs. The shadows of birds overhead occasionally circled around us. He neared the ocean, at a painfully slow pace. With me sitting there, he was essentially taunting the birds. The water occasionally touched him, surely motivating him. I looked out at the waves he was going to navigate in the near future. The sheer power of the waves was intimidating for me, not to mention the absolute vastness of the ocean that contains more threats that I care to imagine. Did this little turtle know his odds? If he did, they weren't stopping his efforts. A huge wave crashed on the beach, breaking my train of thoughts. The sandy water washed up over the turtle, sending his little body tumbling into the deeper, tumultuous surf. The next wave shot him right back on the beach.  The turtle would have to make the trek again, surely several times. I continued to stand near the turtle, watching him make this essential journey. Eventually the he met the waves again and was swept away. I waited to see him get washed ashore again, but he never reappeared. He moved on to another challenge. A very small turtle up against a very big ocean.

With the sun setting over the ocean, I did what any human would do, turn the days events into a much bigger thing. We all have our own beach to cross and ocean to navigate. As humans, it is our natural tendency to avoid pain and when we see others in discomfort, we want to quell it. Some struggles cannot be avoided though. We can succumb to the odds or go on, despite them.  And we must realize that we can only take others to the ocean so many times. Frequently we can't even do that. Each struggle is different. Sometimes help comes from standing beside someone, watching and just being there.

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