What I Learned From A Gentle Sea Creature



I arrived for duty in the American Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan as an unaccompanied Air Force NCO, living in a staff house with other men in the same status.

There were, of course, men stationed there with their families. They lived in nice houses furnished by the Air Force.

Then I fell in love, at first sight, with a sweet little British girl, and we married.

I knew right from the beginning that life for us was going to be no bed of roses. I was neither fish nor fowl. No longer being unaccompanied, I could not live in a staff house, but since I had not been shipped from the United States with my wife, the Air Force had no duty to provide us with housing or anything else.

I found a little rental for us and we moved in. We were too much in love to miss having what others had, but life was not exactly easy.

Months passed. Our son, David, came along. Life became even more difficult.

I felt overwhelmed and very much out of my element.

There was something in Pakistan that I had wanted to see from the day I arrived, but married life put it out of question. It meant a nighttime drive far out into the country. There was no way both of us could go after David's arrival, and, as far as I was concerned, if we couldn't both go, then neither of us would go.

Then one night, Lolly awakened me at midnight, pushed my jeep keys into my hand, and told me to go. She would not take "no" for an answer. I argued, but I don't think I argued as hard as I could have.

And so, my jeep bounced through the night over a narrow two-lane road until I reached a point where high sand dunes separated the road from the Arabian Sea.

Having climbed the dunes with my jeep, I paused for a minute. A quarter moon was up. Down on the beach, my lights lit up red sand and breaking waves. I drove down, chasing a vast herd of light-colored crabs ahead of my headlights.

Then I saw my first one. She was huge -- half the size of an overturned bathtub, with a high-rounded shell that gleamed in the headlights because she had just left the water. I had seen sea turtles before, but nothing of this size.

I jumped out of the jeep and walked over to have a closer look.

She turned her head my way, but never ceased her struggle to climb the dune to a place out of the reach of high tide where she would lay as many as a hundred eggs identical to pingpong balls in size, shape and texture.

She was absolutely helpless out of the water. I could have taken something and killed her had I been the type of person who would do that.

It was obvious from the way she turned her head my way that she was well aware of her vulnerability, but she kept on struggling upward, determined to lay her eggs.

Listening to her labored breathing, I decided that she didn't need me to make more problems, so I wandered off.

I came upon an exhausted creature, done laying eggs and slowly struggling toward the sea.

Her breathing was so labored, each individual breath was such a struggle, that I thought she was dying.

She turned and looked at me and I saw tears in her eyes. They weren't real tears, but something nature had provided to keep her eyes clear of grit. But they looked real enough to me, and they saddened my heart and made me wish I could somehow help.

I stayed behind her where I wouldn't worry her, sitting in the sand and watching her sad, slow struggle toward the sea.

As dawn hung in the eastern sky, she at last reached its edge. A wave broke. Water ran beneath her. She moved forward a foot. Another wave broke, ran up the beach and rolled under her. She struggled on another foot. Then came a slightly larger wave, one that surged around her shell.

Everything changed. A creature that had been so slow and clumsy on land suddenly sped forward. In no time she was 10 feet out.

A second wave hit her. She powered through it, accelerating so fast that I found it hard to follow her.

Ten seconds later, I lost sight of her 50 or 60 feet out.

Smiling as I saw how she looked back in her own element, I walked back to my jeep, climbed in, started the engine, and looked around at the other turtles with their heads turned toward home.

I smiled again. It was time for me to follow their example.

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