To be honest, when I go to the Florida beach on the Gulf in the middle of a hot summer, I never know exactly what to expect. Rain, tropical storms, double red flags preventing you (and your kids) from getting in the water. Bummer. Double bummer. Or there may be sunny skies all week. Who knows?
Still, any unforeseen problems are only an inconvenience when I compare my weather disturbances with the people who are flooding this year, including areas of my home state, or people who are beginning to deal with more frequent, violent storms around me.
You see, I’ve escaped. I am one of those privileged people who actually gets a vacation every year. I didn’t experience family vacations growing up, so I suspect I’m making up for the deprivation I thought I was experiencing. Like a lot of parents, I want to get it right. Right means great memories, traditions, stuff you don’t forget and tales that grow larger with the telling. You hope for great weather, smooth sailing, and “the good life.”
The morning of my birthday, while on vacation, my husband said he found a delivery for me outside. He presented me an unusual balloon. The plastic tag weighing it down read, “Publix,” a local grocery chain. Tethered by a string to the tag was a flying pink dolphin. I knew my husband had not purchased a flying pink dolphin. That’s not his style.
Four days later, the pink dolphin was still hovering in the beach condo, and somehow landed in my bedroom. It looked rather sad because it was in the corner. It turned toward me, then it turned toward the wall. I saw only its tail.
Flying pink dolphins don’t exist, but I started to feel empathy for this lost balloon. What a sucker I am. Here I am on vacation, I thought, and a flying pink dolphin is reminding me of the displaced people who have lost homes to flooding, as well as whole families trying to get to a safe place, yet who have been separated from their close-knit pods.
As we stayed at the beach, there was more heated, political rhetoric about who belongs in America and who doesn’t, who is deserving, and who is not. Having been in Honduras and Guatemala, I get why people in such countries would do anything to create a future for their kids. They want some kind of “good life,” and it’s a lot more basic than my relaxing beach vacation.
Yep. I wanted good weather and fun for our family vacation, but that’s nothing compared to the hope for decent shelter, regular food, economic opportunity, no gang violence, health care, a chance for education, or job training.
I confess I’m the type to adopt flying pink dolphins. I want to throw open the doors and let the hurting folks in. I think I’ve read too many of the Jesus stories. Jesus’ love of the oppressed, the sick, the lost, the poor, the doubter: it’s sunk into my bones. I wonder if the religious people thought Jesus’ crowd was like that flying pink dolphin: not as real, not as important, not as acceptable as the rest, not like the gray dolphins that are all swimming together.
So I stayed comfy on my vacation. My kids were happy. I bought them books at a local book store and fun t-shirts at the Disney Outlet. We rode bikes and got extra beach balls and small nets to explore in the water.
My holiday at the beach is not an escape for safety, or refuge from violence. I am not running from obvious oppression, nor seeking economic opportunity that will put food in my kids’ bellies. Yet I am a parent who believes that kids who are not mine are still ours, all of ours. I believe people whose houses flood need help repairing them. I believe that God intends all the children of the world a safe place, a good home, love.
The flying pink dolphin can talk, maybe not to anyone else, but it speaks to me: “Look closely. I am not your regular fish in the sea. I’m unique. Don’t forget me when you go home. Don’t forget those who seem different, or who get stuck in rough places. Flying pink dolphins may seem foreign to you, but they are as real as hopes and dreams.”
I’m going to try to remember.