The family time has been swell. The walks on the beach have been cleansing. The bonding on all accounts always makes for a fine vacation. What really has been an added blessing has been the trips down the surf in the evening with my daughter - Alexa: eleven years old, wise beyond her years.
Sanibel Island boasts what is called the "Sanibel stoop" where you will find the beachcombers bent at the waist like the women of Asia you see in photos tending to the rice fields. The shell hunting is amazing. The surf perpetually offers a continuous and revolving serving of shells and sea life upon its damp and sandy surface.
There are many forms of plant life that wash ashore that resemble curled hoses with a honeycomb-like interior. Bivalves, like mussels on steroids are as prolific as fallen leaves in the fall. Sponges, of all colors punctuate the oceanic litter, many jellyfish washed on land in between, and the rest if not sand, is a dense carpet of souvenir-quality trinkets.
We found along this stretch of beach, at this point in time, that about every fifty feet or so, a starfish would be pushed ashore by the torment of the surf. They are the variety with numerous thin legs, sandy brown in color.
Their efforts futile against the push of the sea, their doom almost certain.
Many young kids would stare, poke at them with driftwood, or step over them along their journey as if it were a crack that would break their mother's back. The natives stroll by indifferent to their presence. My daughter was looking for a "dead one" to add to her shell collection to be able to take home. I took her on a detour.
I approached the first one, still being churned by the waters and flipped him over to see if his underside showed signs of vitality. It did. I let her see the creature as a "being" as opposed to a souvenir. She gently stroked its belly with the gentleness of a big sister touching the skin of an infant. She smiled unafraid.
Pardon the paraphrasing, but I shared with her the story perhaps we have all heard:
The beach was littered with hundreds of starfish washed ashore. A little girl was carefully and repetitiously picking them up carefully and walking to the surf's edge and casting them back into the curling waters. A man approached the busy young girl and observed her task.
He watched as she appeared to barely make a dent in the never ending supply of starfish she was returning to their home. She methodically walked to find a starfish, walked to the waters edge, and tossed them back to the sea.
The man finally stopped her, starfish in hand as she was about to toss her next one. "Why are you wasting your time? There are too many for you to save. Do you think you can make a difference?" asked the man boldly.
The girl replied matter-of-factly, "It makes a difference to this one." She tossed the next starfish into the sea.
My daughter lit up at this parable. She then started with a fire to save all the starfish she could. Not only have we saved many starfish since, but sea urchins, a baby shark, and many other shelled bretheren. We now have a standing date after dinner, every night, for the duration of our vacation to "save lives". We "send them home" as we call it.
We sing "Somone saved my life tonite" by Elton John. (At least the words we know) We make our difference. I am glad my daughter took the detour. I think it will stick. She mentioned she now wants to be a marine biologist. I hope she does.
The bigger picture is our appreciation of the small gestures, the minor opportunities, the moments of truth, where we can make an impact which should never be held trivially. The ability to make a difference, save a life, or show compassion is a practice that can be polished and performed in many, many areas of our life. To share the gift of enlightening one to the glory of the presence of all of God's creatures was worth the eighteen hour drive. I find joy in her newfound appreciation and enthusiasm to help other beings. It makes a daddy proud. Mission accomplished!
It all matters.