Most of the time, I can honestly say that while I take my work seriously, I don't take myself seriously. On those occasions when I start thinking I'm a pretty big deal, God often presents me with a picture of the universe with me in it...drawn to scale. Those moments are always significant and have become etched into the hard drive of my memory banks.
A number of years ago I was with a group of buddies on a week long journey through the Bahamas in a 65 foot sailboat. It was a truly joyous time and I don't think there was a cross word spoken between any of us for the entire trip. On our last night at sea we had a full moon to guide us back to Miami and it was gorgeous. We also had high winds and some impressive swells that caused me to move my sleeping bag from below deck to the bait box on deck. As the boat pitched and rolled and the wind rattled the lines on the sails, I looked in every direction for any signs of other boats near by and there were none. We were at the mercy of the elements and I found no comfort in that. Even in the company of 15 others and on a sturdy craft, I felt miniscule and incredibly vulnerable. We could be swamped by a wave and not be heard from again. All of this combined to produce an unexpected feeling...calmness. At that moment, I knew exactly who I was and where my place was. It was very liberating.
It happened again a few weeks ago as I was doing my early morning walk. High tide had deposited a seagull carcass on the beach. Though I'm not a forensic pathologist, my opinion is that it had been in the water for a while. I usually would quickly pass this subject matter and move on down the beach, but something prompted me to take a closer look. One wing was partially buried and the time in the water had caused some of the feathers to separate and go in different directions. This revealed the hollow bones and the wing's intricate structure, which typically goes unseen when you're watching birds fly. Additional observation reminded me of how many separate parts make up each feather. Even though I know this, I tend to view birds as a "whole", not as a group of components. The complexity was impressive.
A few days earlier this gull was floating on air currents somewhere, fishing, and being a part of a flock. It was filled with life and then it wasn't. It's time on the beach would end when the tide came in again. I could have easily walked by this scene, but am grateful I didn't. The combination of sand, feathers, and bones in the early light made for a striking composition. The encounter was another reminder that my time here is temporary. It is up to me to make the most of each moment and look for beauty in unexpected places.