I had an interesting experience last Friday. I had developed symptoms of COVID-19 before San Francisco was ordered to shelter in place and self-quarantined almost two weeks earlier. My doctor called me into the office to be tested, but the tests take about 4 to 6 days to process. That equals about twelve days of quarantine and illness. Fortunately, I tested negative, but, between the illness, the online courses, and the quarantine, I felt a little stir crazy. So, once I was able to leave the house and go for a walk, I decided to walk to the ocean. It’s just a mile from my place.
It was a perfect evening for a stroll. The wind was low, the temperature was hovering around 60 degrees F, and the streets weren’t crowded because, well, everyone is supposed to be inside unless they’re out for a walk, too. I had this compelling feeling that I was going to the beach for a reason. I was going to find something there. Have you ever experienced that? A sudden compulsion to do something or go somewhere because you intuitively know that there is something significant either in the journey or the destination meant for you to discover.
I arrived at the beach and immediately saw a dead fur seal. I have never seen such a large, dead mammal on the beach. It was startling. I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve seen plenty of sea creatures washed up on the beach but never mammals. I didn’t feel horrified. I wondered how it came to be there and how it died. I told myself that this is the way of nature in an effort to comfort myself because I felt certain that I did not walk to the ocean only to see a dead seal. I kept walking.
There was a surprising number of people at the beach considering the statewide “lockdown” order. Dogs were running and playing, and people were jogging. It all looked like normal life occurring, and I suspect that is why the locals headed to the beach. People maintain their distance at the beach anyway. We may as well go to the one place where Nature is herself and try to be ourselves, too. You can’t very well miss that reality when passing a dead seal.
“Why did I feel so compelled to come to the beach?” I pondered.
I was convinced there was a reason. I kept walking.
Finally, I paused to look out at the horizon and watch the surfers. I wondered if there were sharks and how big they were. As I recalled a scene from “Jaws”, I looked down at the sand and observed that there were two intact sand dollars by my feet. I looked up and saw an incoming wave and noticed that there was something floating in the water. As the wave washed upon the shore, it deposited seven more intact sand dollars at my feet. I’ve only ever found two intact sand dollars in my life. Nine sand dollars? Was this why I came to the ocean?
What did it mean? I had no idea, but it felt meaningful to me. As I stood on the beach considering this phenomenon, the sun began to set, and the wonder of it all struck me.
I returned home feeling like I could breathe deeply again, and I had to know more about those sand dollars. So, what do they mean? I’ve done a lot of searching, and they are laden with meaning particularly Christian religious symbolism. That can be very significant for many people, but I felt that there was additional symbolic meaning. In looking for what sand dollars may represent in other cultures and traditions, this is what I’ve found:
What is even more interesting about the sand dollar is its ability to “clone”. It can break off a part of itself to reproduce much like adult starfish: ” If larvae of these species encounter temperatures that are conducive to growth, or if food is abundant, they will clone themselves, creating a horde of new identical twins that can take advantage of the favorable conditions.” (Science) What might this tell us? In the context of the current pandemic, I think the general message is both general and specific. We can take into account our needs, but we must also look after the well-being of others. When we have an opportunity to enjoy ourselves and the abundance around us, we should enjoy the blessings and express our gratitude, but we may want to express that gratitude by sharing that abundance–even when we don’t feel like it. When the environment is conducive to growth and the resources are abundant, break off a little bit of what you have so that others who are weaker and lacking have the chance to thrive (this brings to mind the current issue of hoarding resources like toilet paper and necessary medications).
I think my encounter with the sand dollar may have been about expanding my awareness as we enter into this time of uncertainty. The sand dollar is a resilient creature who can survive alone and in a group. It is both other-oriented and self-protective. It transforms and remains the same at once. Lastly, it is multi-colored which I love. When it is alive, it can be green, blue, and purple, and those colors, according to some sources, are laden with meaning. Green represents healing. Blue represents an emotional life, and purple represents the spirit. In other words, do not neglect to care for your emotional and spiritual aspects while looking after your physical healing, and please don’t forget to honor those aspects of those people around you. The last sand dollar I found as I walked the beach was alive and in full color almost shimmering with greens, blues, and purples.
Find meaning therein if you will.
I wish all of you comfort, hope, and strength as we continue forward each day embarking into the unknown with hopeful anticipation.