I was hundreds of miles from home on a Florida beach cradling a wounded seagull. Its head was bowed by two fishing hooks that tethered its beak to its foot. Almost unable to breathe, it had been dredged back and forth in the pounding surf till I scooped up its limp body, carrying it to safety.
The hooks were in deep and I was despairing. “Do you have wire cutters?” I implored of all until at last, a man with a crew-cut and wire-rimmed glasses stopped before me. His jacket said “Coastal Conservation Association” and my heart leapt at the sight.
He knelt down, gently, “What have you got there?”
“It’s hurt,” I said, “I think we can only free it with wire cutters.”
“I knew I should’ve brought my truck.” He turned to the dark-haired woman behind him.
“I think we have some at the office,” she said, “I’ll go.” She set off, determined. We huddled over the bird as an evening storm approached. Its eyes were dark and liquid with pain.
“A group of girls came by,” I blurted out indignantly, “they said ‘Ewww!’ and took a picture for Facebook!”
“Maybe it will inspire more to help,” was his thoughtful reply.
“Why don’t they help?” I asked, “Why does it seem so few care?”
“They don’t want to sensitize themselves; then they would have to slow down.”
How true his comment was. I remembered my first reaction to the struggling bird. I was torn between my compassion and my fears that my Florida vacation would be spent nursing a wounded animal.
“We’re here to take care of them,” he said quietly, “Genesis tells us that. In Genesis we weren’t created first, nature was first and we came after, to be its guardian.”
I was hearing a Christian homily delivered for the first time by this kind man. His faith in Genesis and his interpretation of its meaning were giving him strength as he worked for the preservation of nature.
“This is all I could find.” The dark-haired woman handed him a pair of wire cutters, but they were too thick for the delicate work needed to free the gull.
“I’ll take it home,” he said, “I know what to do.”
He lifted the gull and tucked it under his jacket next to the warmth of his chest.
“Have a blessed day,” he said.
As I walked back to the rented condo, a fierce rain fell. I wished that I too had a sacred narrative that would cradle me in the palm of its hand as I fought to keep hope alive in these crushing times. His sacred story was giving him strength. Mine was a mystical view of nature that tied me to its livingness but, unlike him, did not give me the directive that I was ordained to help. Perhaps sometimes that weakened me. I glanced one last time at the pounding surf that an hour ago had been battering the bird into submission. Despite its beauty, nature seemed cold and indifferent. That’s true, I thought, the elements of nature are indifferent. We are the saving grace.