____A True Story___
Shortly after the incident, I drove back along the Pacific Coast in a euphoric daze of confusion, tears, and exhilaration; there was no place for it to go inside my head. I pulled over on the shoulder of the road and sat in stunned silence. I couldn’t move forward. I simply could not return to work from what had started as a casual lunch overlooking the beach and tossed waves, ending up becoming a kind of. . . miracle.
Moments later, thoughts inside my head still reverberated as though I were a bell struck into vibrations beyond control. I trembled. My hands were shaking. I was laughing and nodding my head: first “yes” and then, “no.” It happened. No, it could not have happened.
And yet—it did!
It is mid-day.
Southern California sprawls like a lazy beachcomber glowing orange from the dazzling sun.
Indolent charm swarms like a flock of gliding seagulls hanging in the air. This is my land of milk and honey. I hoard each golden moment with a greedy savoir-faire, having left my bitterness with Texas in the rearview mirror of my car. This isn’t Fort Worth, Cowtown anymore—this is Playa del Rey, California.
I had departed work at the art studio in El Segundo early, enjoying the drive to the beach with the top down on the Fiat Spyder, savoring a feeling of relaxation stretching to an endless horizon.
As I often do, I pulled up close to the embankment overlooking the sandy strand, only a brief jog away from the Pacific Ocean's mysterious, restless call.
I’ll ruminate, listening to Dave Grusin’s Sweetwater Nights on the Blaupunkt as I munch cucumber sandwich squares, sipping brisk Evian and steeping in the half-dream of April’s sunlight.
Back “home” in Ft. Worth, I had planted faith and sacrifice, only to reap thistles and despair. The long, rolling highway west brought tomorrow to my dreams. Behind was now behind me, and ahead was looming large.
Yesterday I was nobody and nothing. Today I’m on my way to being everything and somebody. Now the old useless waste of myself was roadkill on my resume. Before, I was a janitor, telephone solicitor, day laborer on beer trucks, toiling for pennies in despair.
Then, I woke up.
I sat up out of my slouch and blinked through the windscreen.
Out of the corner of my peripheral vision there was motion. A flurry of movement tugged at my eyes. Something was up! My first hint that anything was going on arrived with slamming car doors.
I surveyed the scene. Cars were stopping in the middle of the road as people dressed in business clothes, or shorts and tank top, or slinky dresses and pearls all momentarily lost their wits and abandoned whatever occupied their lives—but for what reason?
I turned my head to face a wave of mass hysteria finally reaching my senses, and I found myself scrambling to eject from the car seat, springing into the headlong, mad dash toward the ocean.
"We are creatures in the wild", I thought, " and we are spooked."
A horrible possibility passed through my reckoning.
“Somebody has drowned!” Oh God—do I really want to see that?
“What if it is a child?” Horror gripped my heart—but the frenzy of the moment impelled me forward with all the others.
I topped the gentle rise which hid the apron of sand from the surf—sprinting foremost toward rising voices ringing in awe and wonderment. There it was—at that very moment—stopping me dead cold, beholding the incredible circumstances just up ahead.
I gasped—Oh My God!
I beheld a throng of humanity reaching out, madly pushing their naked hands toward and against the glistening bulk of an enormous beached whale—impossibly marooned—likely half dead.
My heart filled with a spontaneous rush of compassionate madness—exactly as all the others—instinctively!
We surrounded it. I laid my trembling palms against this miraculous living being, pushing against its damp flesh as all of us summoned strength.
This was the largest living thing I’d ever beheld! Its panicked eye stared imploringly at our feeble efforts. I listened to the uncanny whoosh-whoosh of its labored breathing. We were electrified and determined in our resolve to achieve this one impossible thing without doubting it must be done.
Somebody cried, “Boats are coming! Boats are coming!”
As we all heaved and hefted and grunted against the awesome mammal’s wall of living flesh, more and more of my fellow creatures arrived. We were as a swarm of ants bent to the task of rescuing an elephant.
I turned my head to behold an extraordinary mixture of old and young, wealthy and down-and-out, ordinary humans stretching out their arms—pale or tanned—freckled or porcelain, as though about to seize hold of the secret of life itself balanced on the threshold of eternity.
How could we know what to do?
Moments before, hadn’t boundaries and walls and fences baffled our connection with each other? Where exactly were we in the Family of Man, the Eco-system of Mother Earth—the bond of Nature itself?
Wasn't the answer all around me?
The natural goodness of man suddenly revealed itself as no hollow fable to disbelieve any longer. We had not been summoned, seduced by rhetoric, or cajoled by false promises of reward. Each of us—all of us had been thunderstruck toward a purpose written in our bones: We survive together or die alone. If you save one living thing—you save the world entire.
Several boats arrived and towlines were secured to the narrow section of the creature’s tail. My conscious mind dissolved into final efforts.
Hundreds of hands pushed, pulled, and grappled as the taut ropes stretched to the breaking point, and boat engines strained to limits unknown.
I beheld this staggering crew of humanity welded into unity of purpose one last time—searching with my artist’s eye for details to be etched into memory for the dark times yet to come.
Two little girls in party dresses, spattered with mud, squealed at the adults close by.
“Help him—Mommy—help him!”
Executives in expensive suits, derelicts reeking of cheap wine, blue-haired grandmothers, housewives, out-of-work starlets, throngs of teens, tattooed body-builders, and every other sampling of our species—were bound in spirit to the task at hand.
And then—it was over! Just like that.
Straightaway, the orca flipped front to back, heading out to sea with a gaggle of frantic fishermen cutting at their ropes lest the loosed ocean mariner become tangled or restrained.
As quickly as it had begun, it ended.
All of us were panting like workhorses at the end of a day of plowing. One by one, we looked up at each other, toward a dawning realization of mystery.
What had just happened to us?
We started to cry, one by one—weeping as though the face of God had appeared to us all in a cloud. Then, we paused and laughed hysterically. Children screamed in celebration, jumping up and down in the sand. This was our proud, jubilant exultation celebrating life itself!
It seemed as though nobody really wanted to leave the scene.
We somehow knew—this had been our day to share a miracle we’d never know again. Gladdened hearts would slow in exultation and the luster of heightened experience could fade in radiance—eroded in the telling to those who could not possibly understand.
One by one, soaked to the bone, stragglers seem to blink and come to their senses. The so-called real world returned. As we separated, none of us could refrain from taking parting glances toward the horizon.
What did any of this mean? Why had it happened?
What greater lesson had been missed?
I returned to my car and dug some spare clothes from the trunk; sand was in my nose, eyes, ears and hair. I smelled like the ocean. I smelled like . . . the orca.
I drove back along the Pacific Coast Highway in a euphoric daze of confusion, tears and exhilaration; there was no place for it to go inside my head. I pulled over on the shoulder of the road and sat in stunned silence. I couldn’t move forward. I looked at my watch for the time—it had stopped. Was it my watch, or was it time itself?
Here I was and everything had changed for me. Was it as simple a lesson as "We're all in this together?" Or, was it, "Don't get trapped?" I felt foolishly naive and incredibly wise all at the same time.
I simply could not return to work from what had started as a casual lunch overlooking the beach and tossed waves and feathery clouds, ending as this miracle. Yet—I returned to work anyway.
I began excitedly telling my friends what had occurred, but all they could see and feel had to do with how bad I smelled and how much sand I was tracking into the art studio.
I took the rest of the day off—to the relieved blessings of one and all.
Back home, it took hours of scrubbing before I was back to normal.
That was the saddest moment of my day.