There are few things I love more than walking on a beach. I prefer to walk right on the edge of the water, where I can listen to the waves roll in, search for sea shells, and keep an eye out for passing dolphins. Sometimes I have to step out of the way of flocks of birds or other people, but usually I just stroll along in peaceful oblivion. For me, there is no better way to reduce stress and calm my soul than to take a long walk on a beach. Most of the time, that is.
Because the problem with beaches is that they are controlled by nature, and not designed specifically for my peace and enjoyment. Which explains why on my recent Florida vacation, I headed eagerly to the beach for an afternoon walk only to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of shells that had been washed ashore by the previous night’s storms. And most of them were still alive (sea shells are actually the exterior skeleton of soft-bodied animals called mollusks), stranded on the hot beach several yards away from the ocean water they needed to continue living.
Most of other people at the beach were ignoring the plight of the beached mollusks but I felt compelled to try to help. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I often rescue worms stranded on the sidewalk after heavy rains, too.) I began by picking up as many live shells as I could hold and then wading knee-deep into the ocean before gently placing them on the ocean floor. Several trips later, I realized that I had barely made a dent in the number of shells in the pile nearest me, and that there were many more shells stranded all up and down the shore as far as I could see. I felt both helpless and frustrated, but I still wasn’t ready to give up.
So I began to walk slowly down the beach, scanning the shells as I went and picking up only those that were moving. (I figured the ones that were actively trying to get back in the water had the best chances of living.) I’m sure I returned at least one hundred “fighting conch” shells to the ocean, and maybe more. I had no idea if putting them back in the water actually saved them, and I know I walked right past several hundred more shells that were still stranded on the beach, with the mollusks in them slowly dying.
I really wished I had been able to save them all, but I also knew there was no way that I possibly could, even if I stayed on the beach till dark and someone lent me a wheelbarrow to tote all the shells. But somewhere during my walk I stopped feeling frustrated with my inability to save them all, and actually began to feel just a smidgen of satisfaction that I was, perhaps, at least saving some of them. That day, my walk on the beach wasn’t peaceful or relaxing, but it did have a purpose.
That day helped me to remember that even though I can’t fix everything, I can always fix something. And that all I have to do is try.