When Loggerhead turtles hatch, they are the same color as the sand. We have to lean down to see, after a friendly woman—a stranger wearing a pink baseball cap and salt-smeared eyeglasses—beckons to us, backlit by the sunrise. Initially blind, we wonder what she could possibly have to show us in the middle of that broad stretch of flat, seashell- sprinkled beach. A crab, maybe?
We wander over to the bland patch next to her, peering down just north of her pointed finger with an awkward acknowledgement. For just an instant, it feels like looking into one of those crazy puzzles: I don’t see it, I don’t…oh. Oh! And then we see. And we gasp. And suddenly, I want to hug the lady in the pink baseball cap for bothering to share something wonderful with a couple of completely oblivious strangers, for understanding that this experience is singularly unique.
“We’ve counted 5 since we’ve been standing here,” another lady says without preamble, ambling over from a few feet away. We are wonder-friends, instantly. “Two of them already made it in; one is almost there, but he’s weak. We’re not sure he’s going to make it. But these other two–one here, one over there,”—she points higher up the beach, toward the sand dunes—“they’re moving along pretty good. It’s not doing much for my workout, but…wow.” I look away from the turtle long enough to offer her a grateful smile, recognizing her as the power-walker who passed us about a quarter of a mile back, pumping her arms, while Kevin and I were still sipping our coffee and ogling the horizon.
We wander closer to the water in search of the weaker turtle, drawn somehow to his striving, and find him tumbling backward in the shallows like a dark, flat stone as the water rolls over him. For a moment, he is still, as though gathering determination for the next opportunity. When at last the salty water reaches the turtle again, warm and frothy-gentle, he thrashes, pressing on, pushing his tiny, papery flippers forward. I stand there helplessly pulling for him—come on, come on, come on. I want to reach down and pick him up with my fingers. I want to move him the two more feet it will take him to get deep enough to swim. We all do. We are paralyzed next to him, a towering cluster of witnesses urging him to the sea, twisting and turning so as not to throw any shadows over his path. Something—maybe a shared respect for the natural process—stills our hands and pins our arms to our sides, pressing our twitching fingers against our hips. They say that baby turtles gather information for survival while they’re still in the egg; and then that the journey, if they make it all, not only strengthens their wispy limbs but helps these turtles figure out how to get back home some twenty or thirty years later, when the turtle-mamas among them will swim for miles across the sea just to lay their own eggs on the same beach.
“Oh, he’s working so hard,” I say.
“Yea, he’s really struggling,” power-walker says, standing beside me.
So also—I can’t help but remember—we are surrounded by a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith (Hebrews 12:1), the ones of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:38). I’ve read that passage thousands of times, but hardly think about those journey-watchers, even though their presence is meant to encourage, to empower. I wonder do they bend around us this way, urging us to persevere, to be free, to journey strong and learn what we must to make our way home, to bear fruit.
Finally, another wave thins closer to the shore, rolling in deep enough to soak our ankles, and the determined hatchling disappears from our sight, catching the current. I squint at the glistening surf, thinking maybe I see his tiny nose dotting the surface as the water quickly recedes. Go, baby turtle. GO. We cheer—the sticky, cluster of us, crazy-grinning. We can’t help it.
Next to me, a woman I hadn’t seen before says, “oh, Oh, that’s just…oh,” as she tucks errant strands of wavy brown hair behind her ear.
“Isn’t it though?” I say, smiling at this new wonder-friend as we wander back up the beach a little to watch one of the stronger turtles still working its way down from mid-beach.
“Hey, I like your shirt,” she says, and I have to look down to remember what shirt I’m wearing. This one is super-soft, olive-green like the ocean when the sun slips behind a cloud. Fix it, Jesus, it says.
“Thanks,” I say, acknowledging her kindness.
“Stuff like this, it just feels like God saying, ‘Hey, I’m right here. I’m still here,’ you know?” She grins, and I realize now that we’re not only wonder-friends, we’re sisters, and I give thanks. It’s a beautiful, inexplicable gift, the bond of Christ.
“But I’m afraid he’s probably already fish-food,” power-walker says, gesturing toward the sea, thinking still of the struggler tumbling back like a stone, the struggler we finally cheered on its way. “Only a few of them make it.”
She’s right. A mama-turtle lays hundreds of eggs—the clutch looks like a pile of pingpong balls buried in the sand—but only a few of them survive and return. Many get eaten by fish before they can make it past the breaker line. For a moment, we just stand there nodding, watching the stronger turtle slowly work his way—and oh, it’s work—down the beach. These days, more than ever it seems, the journey stretches long, fraught with deception, distraction, and predators. I look up from the sand to find my new sister-friend smiling at me, her eyes twinkling. I wonder if she hears the same Word, filling the air around us like seaspray—not a voice, but the powerful impression of freeing truth:
My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Because that’s how all the breathless, striving ones—the feel-like-I’ll-never-quite-get-there ones; the wonder-how-she-does-it-ones, the weak and weary ones, the ones like me—tumbling again and again and again back into the shallows like a stone, survive—yes, and live–to make it home.