Sometimes inspiration comes in the strangest forms, from the most unexpected places.
I recently received a lesson in resilience, determination and grit from a most unlikely source.
My bride and I were lying on a beach on the island of Aruba, at the time.
I know, I hate me too.
At any rate, Aruba is a small island nation about 18 miles from the coast of Venezuela. It is a constituent country of the Netherlands, and gained its independence from the Dutch in 1986.
Its people are friendly, the climate is warm and dry and the beaches are spectacular.
The beach on which we were lounging at the time of my revelation was Eagle Beach, which has been rated one of the best beaches in the world, with gentle breezes, powdery white sand and gently rolling surf.
At any rate, it was there I witnessed a remarkable display of strength and determination.
And no, it wasn’t demonstrated by the various young women trying to retain a modicum of modesty, and comfort, in bathing suits which resembled nothing so much as dental floss and put me in mind of a junior high wedgie.
Yes I looked. I’m old, not dead.
No this paragon of adaptability was completely covered, by feathers, as it so happened.
It was a shorebird, a Sandpiper, medium sized, with skinny legs that operated independently, allowing it to walk rather than hop along the sand.
Or it would, at least, had it had legs.
Rather it had leg, one, the other having somehow been amputated very close to its body. Or perhaps it had been missing the limb since birth, there was no way of telling.
At first I thought it was doing a decent imitation of a flamingo, balancing on one leg with the other tucked up under it. But no, closer scrutiny revealed that the bird was balancing, all right, but by necessity, not design.
As I watched it seemed to always be a bit apart from its fellows who were fluttering and scampering among the tourists, hoping for a loose bit of sandwich or a stray potato chip. I’m still not sure whether that was because it was being shunned by its fellows, or simply because it couldn’t keep up.
That day the wind off the ocean was occasionally lively, fluttering beach towels and threatening to remove loose hats from sunbathers’ heads.
The birds reacted to the gusts by running with the wind, or simply taking flight.
But not this poor fellow, or girl, the sex was indeterminate. It attempted to keep its balance by hopping on one foot if it chose not to take to the air. Occasionally that didn’t work, and more than once it went down in the sand, only to pop up immediately and resume its one-footed stance.
Nature is generally not kind to creatures with imperfections, survival of the fittest, and all that. But this bird was overcoming its handicap, doing its birdie bit with all the aplomb it could muster, despite being short a limb.
It has little choice, of course. If it chose to give up, it would die. There is no safety net for wild creatures.
Humans are lucky. Society provides safeguards to help those who are in need. There’s friends and family, for one, and churches and governmental social programs. There’s counseling and those encouragers in our everyday lives to help us dust off and get back on the right path.
I doubt there’s another bird trying to pump up our hero with chirps of optimism and hope.
But still this uniped bird persists. And so should we, despite the obstacles life throws at us all, whether physical, emotional or financial.
We should all attack life like a one-legged shorebird, balancing, stumbling, falling, but getting back up and returning to the fray.
They say life is not fair. That’s not true. It’s fair in that it is unfair to us all equally at one time or another. And the key to resilience is how we choose to fare in those times of abject unfairness.
Mullin is an award-winning writer and columnist who retired in 2017 after 41 years