The Day I Missed The Manatees
Published: August 18, 2011
“Manatees are on the beach!” My teenage nephew shouted as he walked into the living room. I’d just gotten up from a short nap in the condo that my husband and I were sharing with family for a vacation in Ponce Inlet, Fla. And when I heard “manatees,” I rushed to put on my sandals and dashed to the elevator.
Of course, there were other people also on their way to see the big sweet mammals that are among my favorite beasts, so I lost valuable time as the elevator inched its way to the ground floor. Then I took off at a fast clip, dashing across the blazing hot sand, my heart pounding with excitement.
There in the distance I could see a crowd gathered at the shore, plus the flashing lights of two marine-patrol trucks.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry,” I told myself, as I prayed that I would get there in time.
But then, as I got nearer, my heart sank as I suddenly saw the crowd dispersing. By the time I reached the shore, a man told me, “There were 12 of them, mating, but they’re gone now.”
With a sinking heart, I walked over to my chair perched beneath a beach umbrella, which we’d put out earlier that day. How could I make sense of this huge disappointment?
Manatees have always been special to me, ever since my husband and I encountered two of these gentle giants in the wild when we were boating near Cedar Key, Fla., many years ago. When the creatures emerged from the water and stared at us, I had been mesmerized by their wrinkled, whiskery faces and big eyes.
Now I’d like to report that while I was sitting there under the umbrella, I suddenly spotted three hulking figures swimming by, which turned out to be my own private manatees! I’d like to say I jumped into the water and we frolicked together for a few minutes.
But I’d be lying.
In fact, the only wildlife I saw for the rest of the day included clusters of dead fish that had been washed ashore for some strange reason. And, oh yes, there was this one overweight man in a Speedo suit, if that counts.
As I sat there, I reflected on all the times I’ve walked outside at the precise moment that a chipmunk has scurried by or a hummingbird has zoomed along—and how these moments seem like gifts from God. And yet somehow I had missed the manatees just by a few seconds—and not just one or two, but a dozen.
I realize most people wouldn’t wonder about the deeper implications of an event like this, but writers tend to ponder the ordinary moments of life in search of deeper meaning. And I also realize that many people have arrived late to much more important events, such as a wedding or a funeral.
What to make of all this? In “Taming the Restless Heart,” Gerald Vann writes about a man who is on his way to a very important meeting and then misses his train. The normal response, Vann notes, is to fuss and fume because of the inconvenience.
But Vann advises the following: “You should be telling yourself, ‘Well, I thought God wanted me to catch the train, but he evidently didn’t, and so that’s that.’”
In short, if God had wanted me to see the manatees, I would have. He had other plans for me—the dead fish, alas!—but the lesson is quite simple. It’s all about accepting God’s will, even when it means disappointments, large and small.
For a man who misses a train, Vann advises using the time in a useful way, “instead of pacing up and down the platform like a caged lion …”
And for the woman who missed the manatees? Perhaps the event was a reminder to thank God for all the wondrous things I don’t miss, such as the chipmunks and the hummingbirds. And maybe, as one friend suggested, I should learn to run a bit faster.
Lorraine Murray’s latest books include a biography of Flannery O’Connor, “The Abbess of Andalusia,” and a fun-filled mystery, “Death of a Liturgist.” Artwork is by Jef Murray. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.