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Life lessons from dolphins

On Independence Day morning, my family and I took a dolphin-sighting cruise in Pensacola, Florida. We’d driven down for a couple of days in the blistering heat and energy-melting humidity. I guess I needed to be reminded why people winter in Florida rather than summer there. I also needed the dolphins to remind me of a couple of life-lessons.

As the boat pulled away from the dock, the captain warned us that the 4th of July was not an ideal day for dolphin-watching. The dolphins often leave town for the holiday, annoyed with all the boat traffic (the car traffic was no picnic either). Still, we had our eyes on a pod almost immediately.

As the boat idled a few feet from surfacing dolphins, the captain entertained us with fun facts and stories from his adventures studying dolphins as a marine biologist. He had been accepted into a pod, watched one correct her young, and even saw a pod care for a woman who did not know she was pregnant until the dolphins treated her as though she was.

Later that day, reflecting as a family on our experience, we wondered why we find dolphins so fascinating, so endearing.

Part of the pod

Dolphins are social creatures, and we are too. The simple beauty of the members of a pod, pack, herd, organization, family, church, or society understanding that they are part of something bigger resonates in our souls.

Our captain told a story about diving near a dolphin who was feeding. He marveled as the dolphin caught and ate several fish, all while keeping an eye on him. Finally, the dolphin caught another fish and offered it our captain. “He must have thought this poor, odd-looking creature was too slow to feed himself,” the captain surmised.

A dolphin surfs in the wake of the boat.
Dolphins love to play. This one is surfing in the wake of the boat. Family photo.

When I hear that story, something inside of me says, “Yes! That is how it’s supposed to work.” We too should look out for one another. Jesus says, “when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (Matthew 25:40).

If only we remembered we’re part of a pod.

Let’s play

Dolphins also love to play. Watching them do something just for the fun of it makes our souls rejoice.

After watching the dolphins for a bit, the captain said, “We’re going to see if we can get some of them to play with us.” The motors revved and the boat surged forward. Sure enough, some of the dolphins started “surfing” in our wake. It was a beautiful site.

Many humans take ourselves far too seriously. We need to recover our capacity to play, to do something for the unadulterated enjoyment of it, and to laugh out loud.

Jesus taught us things like, “stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

If only we weren’t too busy to do something just for the fun of it.

A reminder

Our captain told several stories about a small, young dolphin he befriended and dubbed Sharkbait. One day, the captain made a seaweed ball and offered it to Sharkbait. The two played with the ball until another young dolphin from the pod nipped at Sharkbait, stole the ball and took off with Sharkbait in hot pursuit.

Later that day, the captain re-entered the water near his young dolphin friend, who upon recognizing him swam away. A moment later, Sharkbait returned with the seaweed ball. “He knew it was mine,” the captain said, “and he was bringing it back to me. I know some human children who wouldn’t do that.” Someone near me muttered, “I know some adults who wouldn’t either.”

On July 4, 2017, it was good to remember we need to take care of and enjoy one another.

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