Parallel sojourners – Broken shells – Worlds collide

May 16, 2016

I stopped to grab a cup of coffee in the hotel lobby on my way out for a quiet morning stroll along the Atlantic shoreline. There were a few fellow-walkers in the distance, yet so few that it had the promise of a quiet beginning to a peaceful day.

Shell FootprintThe waves rolled-in gently, cresting just before reaching the shore. I noticed the broken pieces of shells strewn about – the birds have been busy already, getting their fill for breakfast. It occurred to me that we are all broken shells in one way or another. Picked-at and chipped by the struggles and circumstances of life. Some broken ones seem to congregate in large groups, while others find a solitary place in the sand.

Amid all the broken pieces, as beach-walkers we are always looking desperately for that perfect shell. The unblemished, unbroken sand dollar or conch. When we’re lucky enough to find it, we scoop it up quickly, rinse the sand from it, carry it gently, take it home, and find a special place to put it on display. We know these unbroken shells are rare. Perhaps our pursuit of them reflects the unbrokenness we long for in ourselves.

As I continued up the wet-sand beach I noticed out of the corner of my eye shadows and movement in the water. My glance caught sight of dolphins cresting above the waterline in their unmistakable arc. About 100 feet offshore, swimming on a parallel path, yet in the opposite direction. I stopped to see the beauty of it, making a conscientious decision not to pull out my iPhone. I wanted to actually see the moment, without distracting myself with capturing it. I counted at least seven, and then, it seemed there were even more. Moving through the water with grace and beauty, on their way to their day, like me. I thought – we are on parallel paths, sojourners along the shoreline, their journey is simply in a different context.

As I continued to watch the dolphins a woman approached on the beach walking in the same direction that the dolphins were swimming. She was talking on the phone, seemingly unaware of the beautiful image just a hundred feet away. As I watched her pass by me I wondered if she lived here. If so, did the marvel of this sighting no longer captivate her? Then I noticed a piece of driftwood in her hand, a sign of someone collecting something unique – so maybe she is a sojourner, like me. It’s hard to know.

StingrayI continued up the beach and saw a small lifeless stingray on the sand, perhaps left behind when the tide rolled out. This time I did pull out my iPhone-camera to snap a pic. As I squatted down to get the right angle I heard a voice calling out in the distance, “Don’t look down, look up!” I looked at the man, then re-positioned myself to take another picture of the stingray. As I did, again he cried out, “Don’t look at your phone, look up at the sky!”

Sky 1When he got closer he continued to urge me, “Look up!” I did look up and said hesitantly, “Yes, it’s a beautiful day.” But he retorted, “It’s horrible! Don’t you see all these trailing streaks in the sky? They’re spraying us! This sky was clear two hours ago. Now, the sky is filled with streams of aluminum-something-something! If it were just jet exhaust it would dissipate quickly, but this sky was clear-blue two hours ago, and now look at it! They’re spraying us; like cockroaches.” I was stunned and unsure what to say, so I sheepishly asked, “Who’s spraying us?”

He explained emphatically, “It’s aluminum-something-something! We’re getting covered with it.” He then went on to list the diseases and conditions that have arisen and escalated as a result. Even gave me the name of a website to check out, though I can’t recall it now. He expressed his frustration that we’re all just looking at our phones and not seeing what’s happening all around us. He ended by stating the obvious, “It makes me mad!”

I was dumbfounded, and mostly just looked at him with what I’m sure was a confused expression. I had been in a peaceful place, reflecting on dolphins while passing judgment on a woman who missed the whole thing because she was talking on the phone. Now, here was this 40-ish year-old man, with long sandy-blonde hair and striking blue eyes imploring me to grasp the magnitude of the problem at hand. Surely exasperated by my lack of expressed indignation, he walked on. As he went I heard him asserting emphatically, “I’m not a cockroach!”

My mind was spinning as I continued my walk. Peace and nature upended.

Another parallel sojourner. Another broken shell, just like me.

Sky ReframedI turned back toward my starting point, still dazed by the jolt of redirection. As I looked up at the streams in the sky, an image I’ve always thought so beautiful in the morning sunlight, it has now been re-framed forever. Even if what he said isn’t scientifically true (I’m not sure if it is or not), this streaming sky will be a reminder of our jolting encounter. The collision of parallel sojourners with contrasting perspectives. Beauty vs. Destruction. Anger vs. Peace – or is it Naivety?

While this seems like plenty to grapple with before 9 a.m. on Monday, as I approached the hotel I noticed another carcass on the shoreline. It was a baby shark with a severed tail. It lay perfectly erect as if the water had just washed away from it and left it behind on the sand. An older couple came upon it at the same time I did. Baby SharkI heard the man say, as if an authority on such matters, “He tried to play with the big boys.” I wonder if that has been this man’s own experience in life when dealing with “the big boys”? Broken shells.

As for me, with echoes of the Beachcomber still ringing in my ears, I wonder if this death of the shark is humankind’s doing? Perhaps an unintended consequence of “man and machine” inflicting its harm on nature. Parallel sojourners colliding, with dire consequences for the fledgling shark.

As the morning’s journey ended I looked down and saw a piece of shell about 2 inches long – a broken shell – textured and beautiful – curved like a dolphin’s fin. I picked it up, gently washed off the sand, and carefully put in my pocket.

Broken Shell

One Response to “Parallel sojourners – Broken shells – Worlds collide”

  1. Michele Waxweiler said

    One of the most awe inspiring times that I’ve felt God’s presence was last month – at Hilton Head’s beach at low tides watching Gracie chasing birds and dolphins in the surf…magical moments. I highly recommend HH in non-tourist season where dogs run leash-less and all is well in the swell of the waves – says Shel who is like a shell.

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