Nov 10, 2013

The other day I was sitting in my car overlooking Venice Beach, awaiting a meet-up with old friends.  I was early so I sat in my car and watched the ocean.  While watching, I saw a lot, there were families and tourists enjoying the water and the pier, beautiful waves, lots of birds…and there were two young homeless men who were screaming at each other, jumping around, and inches from a fist fight for over half an hour.

Summerland beach, new year's day 2013I sat boxed in my car, windows up mostly because of the chill in the wind.  The trashcan on the beach near me was checked at least every ten minutes for cash-value recyclables.  When I saw how many people checked the can, I was surprised; but it was when the relatively well-dressed man, the one in running shorts and shoes much like the ones I wear, when he checked the can, that is when I noticed my alarm at my surroundings.  Until that moment I didn’t feel connected to where I was, I was simply an observer.  Somehow the similarity, that I perceived in the man with the running gear to myself, stirred in me, or rather woke me up to, the feelings of how close I was to danger.  The glass windows of my car were all that separated me from this outside world, of Venice Beach, whose harshness was revealing itself in greater magnitude the more I looked at what I saw.

One of the men who checked the trashcans started hollering at the seagulls, motioning for them to leave him alone.  He yelled with an irrational tone, and I averted my eyes so as not to further aggravate him, or maybe so he would not disturb me.  He was throwing food out onto the beach, and then yelling at the seagulls who swooped into get it.  I became annoyed, how could he expect them to act differently?  I had empathy for his situation as clearly his thoughts were not lucid, but I also wanted to protect the animals.  Yet, I sat inside my box.

He threw food out closer and closer to my car, such that the seagulls were landing on my roof.  I stayed inside my box.  Finally, one of the seagulls landed right on my hood, it was limping.  In the sunlight I could see the reason, the fishing line glistened, tied and knotted too tightly around its left leg.  I motioned to open the door of my car, and then stopped, realizing the bird would never stay still long enough for me to remove the line.  I had nothing to do but sit, watch, and pray for the poor bird.  My eyes teared as I thought of the days of pain this bird endures so senselessly, it seemed to me it could have been avoided or easily repaired.  Then I noticed how many of the seagulls in front of me were limping.  The screaming man approached close and I saw that he had wild hair and shifty eyes.

Then I saw the most beautiful thing on the beach that day.  The limping birds were watching the man, too.  He was throwing the food to them.  The one on my hood with the fishing line around its leg waited.  The man caught my eye and I smiled, acknowledging I didn’t mind the bird on my car.  He approached and threw it a large piece of food, and it jumped gracefully in the air to catch it.  This was a regular event.  I then understood that the hollering he had been doing was at the healthy birds to keep them away, the man only wanted to feed the injured birds.  My feelings of helplessness dissipated as my feelings of admiration for the man grew.  I had written him off, so to speak, I had assumed he did not know what he was doing.  Instead, he was doing the exact thing I was unable to do, assisting the lame bird.  Even in his situation, he found a way to help.  I had underestimated him by far.  I noticed that the bag of food he was throwing from appeared to be purchased and intended for this purpose.

Somehow at the moment I realized what I saw, my place in the world felt a little less helpless and a little less alone.  It was a beautiful day at the beach.

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