Xmas Starfish & Hitchhikers

I have had a full day today that has been nothing at all like any other Christmas I have ever had and I’m definitely going to mark this one up as a good one. I didn’t expect that to be something I’d be able to do, seeing as how I’m here alone and my family are all in different states. So when I woke up this morning, or more accurately, when I was woken, I didn’t have any plans to do anything different than any other day that I’ve been here but within the first 15 minutes things got “different” and from there it just never came back to normal until I sat down with my laptop to write.

I didn’t make it to bed until almost 2:00 this morning. I have no idea why other than I seem to have lost the ability to track the passing of time and I can sometimes think I’ve been reading or writing for only an hour or two and then check the time and realize it’s been 6 hours. When old people tell you that time passes more quickly as you get older, believe them. It is an exponential increase starting around the age of 30 and by the time you reach my age an entire year can pass in what feels like only a month.

Since I went to bed so late, I turned off my early morning alarm that would normally wake me in time to dress quickly and make it to the beach just in time to see the sunset. But I wasn’t too distressed about missing the sunset because, like I told you in my earlier post, there are a lot of wealthy, littering (and beep-y honk-y) tourists here for the holiday and I was mostly planning on staying inside and ignoring them today anyway. But at right around the same time my alarm would normally go off, I suddenly just woke up. Just boop! Eyes open and fully awake – didn’t have to pee or anything…just woke up. I felt a little grumpy about it because 4 hours of sleep is just not enough, so I rolled over and snuggled in to fall back asleep and when I did I…(ah! I can’t believe I’m going to say this!)…okay…here it goes…I was ready to go back to sleep and I sensed a voice telling me to get up. Sternly. And calling me by out by name like a parent who’s frustrated with their high schooler who has overslept again. For real..this actually happened to me.

So I got up. Because that is what I do when the voices in my head start calling me by my first name in a stern voice. I got dressed and headed over to the beach, hoping on the way there that the tourists were tired from all their driving back and forth and honking and woohoo’ing and whatnot last night and that maybe I’d have the beach to myself as usual and could find some good shells. As soon as I crossed and could see down past the dunes in the dim light before the sunrise, I saw a number of “them” all out there and I just knew that the only beach treasures I’d be finding would be the trash they were going to leave behind once the sun had risen. I am not proud of this but I was feeling pretty self righteous and bitchy about the whole thing; as if it were MY beach and they were somehow trespassing. I clearly really need to get ahold of my damn self.

So I walked down toward the water and immediately I noticed that everything looked completely different. When you walk a shoreline every day twice a day, you become familiar with the the shape of things, even as the tide comes in and makes little changes each day. But the changes this morning were big changes and then I remembered a storm had come through and realized that there must have been some really impressive waves because, in addition to all the humans, the beach was covered in things left behind by the water. The first thing I noticed was what I thought was a dark grey plastic shopping back and I walked toward it to pick up and as I got closer I could tell that it wasn’t a bag but was actually a sting ray! The poor thing was dead and lying at least 25 yards from the surf so I can only imagine how big the wave was that brought it in during the storm. I didn’t have my phone on me so I didn’t get a picture of it but it was so cool and so sad at the same time.

About 20 steps down from the sting ray, I picking trash out from some seaweed and such that had washed up and found a starfish! I was really excited and I brought it back with me along with a bunch of really cool shells that I found this morning too. I’m still fascinated by having found it but since bringing it home, the realization this was a live thing at one time and that I came across its dead body and celebrated in finding it and then transported it home in order to dry it and keep it as a pretty thing to look at just kinda sunk in and made me sad to be a human who thinks of dead bodies as home decor. To top off my newfound “I collect dead bodies” guilt, the starfish made the whole condo stink like rotten fish, because it turns out that starfish are rather fishy, and so now it’s sitting out on the balcony and I’m still wondering how through all these years I never realized the dried starfish I’ve seen in decorations and such were actually the carcasses of dead things.

The Christmas carcass

But I have to back step from here to tell you about the rest of my beach story because there are actually two parts. When I found the starfish and some really incredible shells, I had pretty much convinced myself that I had been divinely woken so that I may do so and was feeling pretty groovy and “Thank you, Father” about it. I was heading up the beach and back to the condo when I saw someone walking onto the beach out of the corner of my eye. Normally the corner of my eye is all anyone gets from me but just as I was about to pass by, I saw this person offload a large backpack and with a sleeping bag and sit down on the sand. And the same voice that had ordered me out of bed this morning very clearly said “Pay attention.” So I did.

Looking over, I saw an older gentleman with white thinning hair, sitting in the sand and smiling contentedly with a loaf of Wonder Bread in his lap. With the deep lines and grooves around the features of his face and the weathered appearance of his skin, he was obviously well traveled and not new to the transient lifestyle, This being such an affluent area, I have never seen a single transient here and I suspect that if anyone who even remotely looks homeless makes an appearance, they are promptly given a ride elsewhere. My first thought in looking over and paying attention to him, as I was told to do, I thought how sad it was that he was going to eat a loaf of Wonder Bread for Christmas and just as I was having that thought he sees me and says “Well lookie there! You found a starfish!”

So of course I showed him my starfish and he spent a little time appreciating it and telling me about starfish that he had seen in places as he traveled around. He made it clear to me up front that he was not homeless but that he was a hitchhiker (the difference seemed to be significant to him) and that he had been a hitchhiker for 15 years, didn’t have any children, had been in every state except for Hawaii and Alaska and that he had just arrived in these parts having left Maryland when the cold weather set in. He told me many stories that I won’t recount here but they were all pretty good stories and a couple of times, when he was talking about something that had been a particularly well-timed or generous blessing for him, his very blue eyes would fill with tears in a way that almost made my own water.

I’ve spoken to transient people before and gotten a sense of them that told me to distance myself as soon as possible but this gentleman had a way about him that was simple; not in a way that is lacking in intelligence but simple in that he was just being himself and wasn’t trying to angle for anything or make an impression and, most impressively, was very positive in talking about his life experiences and impressions of others. He even spoke of being “thankful for the hardest trials” as part of one of his many stories and, while he was definitely quirky and I recognized the signs that it is most likely alcohol that has led him to his transient lifestyle, whatever circumstances had brought him to being a hitchhiker had not made him hard or hopeless. It made me feel protective of him; knowing that the others in the area would most likely not welcome his presence and, Christmas or not, he probably wasn’t even going to have time to eat his Wonder Bread meal.

So I asked him, “Are you here to spend some time on the beach then?” And he kinda laughed and said “No, they probably wouldn’t like that around here, would they? I just bought this bread from the store down the road so I could come here and feed the birds. I like it when they take it right out of my hand.” And as he was saying this, his face literally lit up with excitement and it made me think about what I was saying in my post about how it seems like the wealthy never seem to genuinely be enjoying themselves. And here is this man, with likely what are his only worldly possessions in the backpack beside him, and he’s talking about feeding the seagulls with literal giddy excitement. Just the whole concept of a man with no home and not food and, presumably, not a lot of money spending what money he does have to buy (what was probably a pretty expensive gas station) loaf of bread to feed to birds. What is that? Why aren’t more people like that? ARE there a lot of people like that this and I just have the misfortune of never meeting them or is this type of soft uncalloused person as rare as I believe?

I watched him feed the birds and he truly delighted in it while he did. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen seagulls being fed on a beach but it quite a show and most people don’t do it because, when you will throw the first tiny piece of food to one bird, within seconds dozens of birds will descend upon you looking for more of the same. And it was no different today as the the hitchhiker tore off chunks of Wonder Bread and tossed them up in the air. I stood next to him while he fed and talked to the birds, talking to them and laughing at them as they did things he thought were funny (and admittedly, they really kinda were). Watching the hitchhiker literally experience joy in abundance feeding bread to birds while the people around us were making a big show of letting us know how much they disapproved was quite the study in contrast. The hitchhiker took absolutely no notice in any of the or their disapproval, he was too busying pointing out to me “that little guy is missing his foot but he still got there faster!” and “Lookie there! I didn’t see that little guy over there. Let’s make sure he gets some too.”

When the bread was all gone and the moment was over, I offered him cash and ride to a local hotel. He cried a little bit then and just stopped in that moment, bowed his head and said a prayer thanking God for the “answered prayer” and then got really excited about getting to “take a hot shower, lay on a bed and watch a little Christmas football.” It really was amazing to have the opportunity to see someone taking some much delight in what most of us take for granted. Before taking him to the hotel, he asked to use my restroom and afterwards, in a very polite way, he asked if he could ask for two more favors: could I please let him hear the song “Go Rest High On That Mountain” by Vince Gill “because he doesn’t get the chance to listen to music too often” and could he use my phone to call his sister for Christmas. So of course both of these things happened and we even listened to a Johnny Cash song titled “I’ve Been Everywhere” which is apparently his theme song and he was so happy to hear it that he was dancing and singing while it played. And then, as were preparing to leave so I could drive him to the hotel, he wanted one more favor and asked me for a piece of paper and a pencil. He sat in my living room for about 20 minutes really working hard and when he as finished, he gave me my Christmas gift. He had drawn for me a unicorn. Because of course, it would be a unicorn, right?

All the strings; connecting everything to everything else.