WOUNDS BECOME AWARDS
Saturday mornings bring back memories of inconceivable joy. Waking up early, leaving my children’s mother asleep, I dressed, packed up the baby girls’ bag with bottles, food, diapers, toys, wet wipes and water. One at a time I got the two little peanuts up. I got them dressed, did something wacky with their hair-do, tied the laces on their tiny sneakers and got both little girls out the door before they even knew they were awake.
I strapped them in the car seats in the back seat and considered rolling out the driveway without any headlights on so as to not wake anyone further. I’d adjust the rear view mirror so I could see both of them at the same time. I loved the look on their face as I would start discussing the philosophy of universal law or some eastern religious parable. The look on both their little faces was, “where is this crazy person taking us now?” and “what the hell is he talking about?”
Flash forward about 25 years, to the present, as I talk to one grown daughter about career decisions in Biology, home purchases and making life decisions based on the establishment and priorities of core principles. I talk to the other daughter about her Social Work challenges of guiding damaged underprivileged children and managing their abusive parents.
Humbled by the spectrum of how good or bad a child might have it, aware of the range of abuse in one’s upbringing and how less enthusiastic parents make up the majority of our culture, I sought out pictures to take. While waiting for the Aquarium to open and my boat trip out on the bay to begin, I’m forced to see a beautiful view, spotted with little children attending a sailing camp. For two weeks, twenty children will learn how to sail, while their overly attentive parents watch from the shore.
Meanwhile on that same dock and from the other end of life’s cycle, is a different group of campers. Elders taken out for the day by their counselor to the dock to go fishing. This gentleman opted out of the hook, line and sinker and decided to take in some sun. I imagined he was a retired professional baseball player, though I don’t know for sure. I wondered what his life was like. I wondered if he came from a difficult upbringing or one of appreciation.
I wondered about the stories of his life, the challenges he encountered and how he overcame them. I noticed his alert button around his neck. It’s the button he would press if he felt troubled, uncomfortable or ill. He would press the button and help would come. I wondered why they don’t make something like that for abused or under appreciated children.
Finally the Sea Turtle Hospital opened and I was granted entry. It was a tiny little facility that offered long-term care to injured sea creatures. Featured in recovery were a couple of Sea Turtles in separate tanks, a Dolphin and all the children that would come to be fascinated by these sites.
As I strolled around the facility, eager to get back to the boat before it left, I looked at all the children and the caring parents that got them exposed to these sights. Though they are all beautiful to me, every once in a while I see one that is beyond exceptional. My two have always gotten my full attention so I rarely noticed other children when they were small. But now, I see sparklers all the time.
She was watching this baby turtle below, who, according to the tour guide would be at the hospital for a very long time and would require an extra-large tank.
I left the beautiful children and the broken turtles and started the trek back to the main building where our group would depart for the boat tour of the bay. On the way I passed another kind of nature hospital. This one was filled with sick and broken birds. The mightiest and most powerful birds of prey, forced into recovery while being fenced in.
Then of course, came the requisite flowers on my path. Damn stupid flowers. I can’t help but shoot them, but what do you do with the shots after you get them all?
Finally it was time to gather and get ready to board. They had one ticket left and I took it. Surrounded by parents and children of every age we all grouped together in search of seeing something awesome.
The boat was full and we trolled out the bay. The Marine Biologist/Tour Guide told tales and explained science the whole way. As we floated underneath this mighty and familiar bridge, I grabbed a few shots with the hopes of catching a view less frequently seen.
They took us to a protected island of birds. So much nature, I had trouble not shooting a million shots of nothing. But here are a couple that I did grab.
All morning long, I kept thinking about my conversation with my Social Worker daughter. How she would circulate in the world of the less appreciated child. I looked around this boat filled with families and was reminded that equal to the tragedies of neglect there are pockets where our little people are the most precious. This little girl was out with her grandparents and none of them could stop smiling.
The tour guide/ Marine biologist threw the net into the water and pulled out a collection of life. I thought about my other daughter, the Biologist, and how she once wanted to be a Marine Biologist like this woman. As a gift to me, this woman who showed us these beautiful sea creatures also had the most magnificent manicure I’d ever seen. It definitely made for better pictures.
I loved the story she told us about this fish. It’s called a Needle Fish or Spike Fish because of the spiked fin. The way the story goes, the bigger fish that eat this little fish with the deadly spines, first smack it unconscious, so they could swallow it face first. Face first, the spiny fin lays down and if the fish was wiggly and awake, it could turn while being eaten and stick its prey in the throat.
The funniest part of the bay tour was when our tour guide/Marine Biologist/ Stephanie… tried to grab this blow fish and make it puff up for us. She had taken it from the net and put it in a tank on board. Then when she reached into the tank, she proceeded to explain how, if she rubbed it a certain way, it would puff up.
For some reason, it wasn’t puffing up for her. I wanted to recommend that she maybe kiss the fish on its neck, or tell the fish how handsome it was. Or perhaps if she opened her blouse a bit lower, the fish might puff up. But no. I kept my comments to myself. Eventually the fish did puff up and I wondered what the fish was thinking in order to have a successful performance.
Eventually we all made it back to shore safely. I ran into the Aquarium to see if there were any fish to shoot not behind thick cloudy glass. No such luck. But on the way out, I of course got called by a couple of dumb pretty floaty flowers. What am I gonna do with all these dumb flower shots?
Anyway, as I walked back to my car, I passed a rusty crank on the side of the building. I loved that thing. In its day, it must have been mighty and lifted some pretty heavy boats. But now, it’s just an old rusty reminder of a time when it was shinier and strong.
One time long ago, I was married. We had an old copper reading lamp that sat on the floor next to the chair. It too showed the patina of time as it was no longer shiny and new but had oxidized and turned this strange teal color. One weekend, my wife went away on trip and would return on Sunday night.
I got it in my head to surprise her by shining that gross old lamp back to it’s almost new condition. I worked feverishly all weekend long to clean and polish it to a spectacular shine. Proud of my surprise, the wife returned and I cockily nodded over at the restored fixture. Such a look of horror came over her face, I could not describe to you.
“Oh my god! What have you done?! Do you have any idea how long it took for that lamp to get that way? What’s wrong with you? Why did you do that? Oh my god, it’s worthless now.” And with that she went up to her room crying. I was confounded by the whole event because I thought I was doing something that would be a great surprise… making it shiny and new again.
I felt a bit like an abused child. I worked so hard on that damn lamp. I can still remember the rush of sweat that over took my body in reaction to her displeasure and the thought of how I had done something wrong. It brought me back to how I started my day learning of the misdeeds of parents not appreciating their children. There is no resolution to this, there is just forgiveness and release and the making of room for the happy.
Now, I honor that rusty crank. I thought about how long it took to get that way. I remember it has more value because of that history. I saw that rust like one would view the metals pinned to a soldier’s chest. The pitting a life endures is like this rust. It’s the texture that grows with time. They are the wounds that turn into the awards of endurance.