This morning, Dad and I went to the beach at six thirty in the morning. Just as the sun was rising over the edge of the horizon, just as the world was starting to awaken, my father and I dragged out two kayaks, loaded in our fishing supplies, and pushed out into the glass-line surf.
With quick strokes, I skimmed the surface of the ocean and ran parallel to the shore, keeping pace with a jogger, pretending that I was competing with him over who was going to reach whatever finishing point that I was going to reach first.
And then a dolphin breached the water. A smooth arched back, pink skin ringing the dorsal fin. A hump in the water that disappeared beneath the surface. Less than twenty feet from me, the dolphin rose and then sank beneath the water.
I stopped paddling. Ignoring the urge to go out into the gulf and fish with my father, I let the current pull me along the shore and I watched the water spin in tight eddies from where the dolphin had submerged and I waited.
And waited for the dolphin to return, to surface. I deliberately slowed my strokes in case the dolphin rose close to me. Although I knew the possibility was unlikely, I hoped. I prayed that maybe, just maybe, the dolphin would return and we would have this moment.
After ten breaths, I knew that my moment had passed, that the dolphin was not going to rise beside me and look at me with its wise eye, smile at me, nod its head in recognition of our shared existence, and then lower into the azure depths.
I turned, looked well behind me which was dangerous given that I was in a kayak, and saw the dolphin swimming out to sea. And then I heard my father’s voice calling to me across the waves, pointing at me to go to shore so that we could start the process of collecting bait fish.
These are my mornings recently. Awakening at five forty-five and drinking coffee with my parents. By six fifteen, Dad and I are leaving the condo and walking the mile to the beach, our footsteps in perfect synch to the lurching rhythm of Dad’s headlamp. In the last couple of days, we have seen plenty of rabbits, alligators, a raccoon, fish, and dolphins.
Lots of dolphins.
When I was a girl, I read and fell in love with Madeline L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light, a book about a girl who was finding that she was a poet while also helping a young man with his research on dolphins. And I dreamed that I was this young woman. I dreamed that I could lie in the water and just think about dolphins and they would come to my call.
Because of that novel, I decided that I needed to live in Maine. And work in a dolphin research laboratory. And wear fishermen-knit sweaters. Because that’s what Vicky, the main character in the novel, did.
I don’t live in Maine. And I don’t work in a dolphin research facility. And I don’t own a fishermen-knit sweater.
But this morning, as I pulled through the water and eventually watched several other dolphins swimming through the ocean while watching the sky swirl through the colors of the sunrise, I experienced this incredible communion moment.
And I just praised God. For life. For the sheer beauty of existence. For the golden-rose palette that streaked the sky and illuminated the clouds and promised me that my world was good, even if for only those moments. I praised God for the soft, rounded tip of a dolphin’s dorsal fin and the shrill chirp of the osprey that was building its nest.
I praised God that Dad and I were pulling our kayaks out into the ocean for another morning of sugar trout fishing, another morning of quiet unspoken words that don’t need to be spoken because…well…we have nothing to say. Because the words that need to be spoken have been communicated and all that is left, at this point, is to remind one another that we love each other.
And when those words were expressed, Dad taught me how to fish for sugar trout because they kept on stealing my bait fish.
This morning, I took in no host, no sacred wine. I didn’t dip my bread into grape juice and whisper “Amen” to the officiates who were quietly murmuring to me that “This is the blood of Jesus, spilled for you” and “This is the body of Jesus, broken for you.”
I sat in a kayak, luxuriating in the cold water splashing against the still-hot sunburns on my thigh and cooling down all the bitter achiness. I watched a dolphin dive into the depths to find its morning meal. I watched the egrets skim along the sand so that they could follow my father while he threw his cast net and pulled up greenbacks that we would later use for bait.
I saw my brother and my beautiful niece-in-law, two people whom I desperately love. And we laughed and we chatted and we talked and I felt the awkwardness of distance and time fall away and we were just three family members standing on a deck, watching as my dad spun out an old, blue net into the water and collected silver, flashing fish into a yellow bucket.
When Dad and I had made our way to the crab pots where we were going to fish, he realized he had left behind one of his rods and he asked me to come with him, partway, back to shore. Initially hesitant, I followed him, and as the distance between us lengthened, I started singing.
I started with “Jehovah Jireh, our provider, your grace is sufficient for me” and then moved into my favorite “Psalm 139” song. And then I sang, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God.” And then the last two verses of the book of Jude. And the “Alleluia” version of “Amazing Grace.”
And I sang and I sang and I sang. To the ocean. To the birds flying over my head. To the fish I might be catching. To the dolphin who was swimming to the horizon. To God. I sang without fear, without anxiety that someone was going to hear this crazy woman with a voice that sometimes bleats like a goat. I sang and sang and sang with my head thrown back as the sky changed from gray to gold to rose to blue and the world was a gently rocking blanket beneath me.
This morning, I took in no holy sacraments. But I still feel as close to God as if I had been fed by the pope himself. I feel as though some of the recent events in my life that have made me question things really aren’t as noisome as I had originally imagined.
This was a morning in which I found my own sense of peace with God, a peace that was not manufactured or spun out to me and I had to find a way to see myself within someone else’s mold. This was my morning with God. And a dolphin. And the quiet rhythm of the ocean rocking me to peace.