Gift

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“Why are there so many dead fish?”

I asked the first person I saw–a short woman with shorn, gray-speckled hair, walking on stiff legs along the water’s edge. I’d never been to Florida, never seen a beach piled with shells of all sizes on the flat matted sand. I’d also never seen so many dead fish, bloated and bug-eyed, stretched out on the sand as if they’d plopped down for a nap.

“I don’t know,” she said to the water. She turned to me, “I don’t have any idea. I’m just glad to be out of there. That’s all I really know.”

“Out of where?”

“New Jersey,” she said. “Or what’s left of it.”

We stood on the shells that crunched under our feet every time one of us shifted. She placed her hand on my arm. “My son is still there. He’s a first responder. My friend’s house is filled with water. Our beaches. All gone.”

“Gone?”

“So terrible,” she said. “I had this trip planned. I couldn’t wait to get out.”

Her raspy voice faltered and her grip on my arm tightened a little. “Should I have stayed?”

Life will sometimes bring you a moment in which–though you wish to your core you knew what to say–you don’t.

Suddenly the woman pointed out to the water. “A dolphin,” she said. “No–two!”

We stood side by side watching a mama dolphin and her baby play in the surf. The woman looked at me with red and watery eyes.

“Sometimes life gives you a gift,” I said.

“Sometimes it does,” she finally said.

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