I’m lying on the beach in Florida, book in hand, hot tamales melting on my fingertips.
There’s a man throwing a net into the ankle deep part of the ocean, another untangling fishing line from a reel, a mother offering children sandwiches and juice boxes.
This is how I spend my time at the beach. Reading and rereading the same passsage in a book because I allow myself interruptions… peaceful, long interuptions because sometimes a weary soul just needs purposeful pointlessness until it can catch its breath.
Here at the beach, there is always an unhurried parade of life, a slow hum of human stories with all their unique plots just walking past, some stooping to pick up a shell, others talking in clipped, foreign languages, some simply ambling as if backdrops to everyone else’s existence.
I move back to my book, ripe with the violence of Mexican cartels and border security and a heroine alone with her child.
There’s an excited shrill, then, from a little girl, and I watch as she runs to her dad who has just caught a fish. It dangles, wriggling on the end of his line.
I watch the man shake his pole, then, trying to dislodge the hook without having to touch the fish. He pauses and I watch how the small fish flips and flops against its own bloody existence and how its little body is vibrant orange in the setting sun, like it’s on stage under a spotlight and this is its final performance.
I see him, then, put that fish against the hot, gritty earth and place his foot over its writhing, tiring body, giving one quick yank to free the hook. He decides, now, he can touch the fish and he picks it up, throws its little, torn frame up the beach, away from the waves. It struggles, lies still, and I imagine its mouth opening and closing, opening and closing while a paddleboarder floats by and while a mother takes pictures for Facebook and while the seagulls screech above waiting for the fish to be left alone.
And I watch the way his daughter sees it all with her deep, understanding eyes and later, how she pokes the dead fish with a stick, impaling it’s tiny body against the beach and this is how the world works, it seems, with the innocent dying at the hands of the oblivious.
I am too tired to be angry. I am too weary to speak up. Because sometimes it is so much bigger than that little fish and it feels like you’re the only one who notices all the unkindness, that you’re the only willing to ask the hard questions, that you’re the only one taking on this entire, unjust world and it’s a terrible, lonely existence, one where you want to lock the front door to your house and curl up on the couch with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and your dog.
I think about how tired, really, truly exhausted, I am with it all: with all the parts that make up this horrifically unkind world. How right now, the Democrats are slinging mud and the Republicans are slinging it back, how the gunmen are still killing people, how everyone is blaming anyone other than fate for every Coronavirus death, how koalas are just now starting to heal their little bodies from the burns by arsonists, how sometimes it feels like the only logical thing to do is give up on this big, broken world.
I no longer belong here, I think. I can feel it in my bones, the way I’m too old or too new or too jaded or too sensitive to exist in a world where darkness pushes at the edges of my every waking moment.
The breeze catches the pages of my book, flips them rapidly, like its shuffling the words to maybe rewrite a different story. I close my eyes, feel the sea spray against my face, feel a quiet tumble over me like a sleeping seashell lifted from the deep.
“The power of choice happened long ago,” Southern Gal says, “and if God didn’t allow bad things to happen then there’d be no need for redemption.”
I can see it, then: we desperately need to live in a world of redemption because it’s the only way we’ll survive this mess we were born into. It’s the only way we can account for the countless poisonous apples we’ve eaten right here, out of our own garden of Eden. Because seeing a broken world filled with broken, imperfect people and believing in its redemption is taking one giant step toward trusting in a God determined to save the world.
There are dolphins playing in the bay, now. They make me smile, the way they flirt with the pelican floating on the surface where they dip in and out. Then I think, also, about the dolphins stuck in cages across this globe and how the marine biologists are concerned because once the mothers give birth, how the mothers sometimes try blocking their babies from getting to the surface for that one big breath of life. Like they know, somehow, that they don’t want to bring their little ones into this world of injustice, into this world of captive imperfectness.
I dreamt, once, that I flew to Montego Bay, and in the dead of night, donned my scuba gear and walked along the patterned ocean floor until I found the rusty gate to release all the dolphins into the wild. I remember waking from that dream, just as the dolphins were streaming past me into the deep waters and I laid there and wanted to cry for every single one still held in cages but I thought, instead, that I might need coffee if I was going to do an ounce of good in this world so I got up and made myself some in my favorite cup that reads “Don’t Let the Muggles Get You Down”.
God looks a lot like you and I, I think. He looks like a coffee-infused intentionalist who thinks about the animals, about the planet, about others. God looks a lot like thoughtful kindness, like a dad teaching his child to do the least amount of harm, like a Democrat or Republican giving up a label for the sake of what’s ethically and morally right. He looks like a smile, a willingness to be brave in the face of injustice, like a person willing to quit accepting easy answers to life’s toughest questions.
He looks like you, yes you, stepping bravely out your front door.