Was It the Dog or the Jellyfish?

This article originally ran May 25, 2012 and was re-recorded January 30, 2017.

After three years in Asia, this was the first beached jellyfish I’d seen. But, before I explain how I rescued a beached jellyfish in Taiwan, allow me to tell of the cockroach who saved my life.

Normally, when a country-born Michiganian sees a cockroach on its back, the first inclination is to step on it. Call me cruel, but I’d prefer the gratification of knowing it just sat there on its back. Yes, I pulled wings off a fly when I was young. But, that’s because he bit me when I never did anything to him! All that’s in the past, now, and here I was looking at an Asian cockroach doing the cockroach dance.

When you think of it, cockroaches are quite useful creatures. Imagine how many corners would be so much dirtier if they didn’t clean up! But, despite the creature’s usefulness, all I could think of were the words from that song by Darlene Zeuch, “Your eye is on the sparrow…” See, I want to be just like my Daddy, and if His eye is on the sparrow—and I never was much of a sparrow fan—then I could at least help a “backed-up” cockroach.

I gave the most gentle nudge of my toe and… FLOP. There he was, dismayed, as any Asian cockroach who gets bumped, but firmly standing on all six of his… well, I think they’re “legs” anyway.

As I continued my evening trek to the corner 7-Eleven, I had a warm feeling inside. Maybe it was the new friend I’d made, who would likely be squashed by a car the next morning or become entertainment for a curious dog… Then again, it seemed he had favor. I’d been walking by at the right moment for him, after all. Did we share guardian angels? Perhaps he’d live to a ripe, old, cockroach age.

With 7-Eleven stock in hand, and returning to the front gate of my apartment, I realized that I’d lost my keys. There weren’t many places I could have left them, yet losing things just isn’t like me. So, I didn’t have much of a history of loss to go on. All I could do was retrace my steps. I was as helpless as… well, as a cockroach on its back. Maybe Daddy would lend His big toe and get me back on my feet. Did I deserve it? Technically, no, but maybe I’d stacked God’s favor in my favor that evening.

The moment I reentered the 7-Eleven from whence I’d treked, the clerk handed me my keys. Not the usual convenience store reception, mind you. Other patrons probably wondered what was going on. Was 7-Eleven now in the key copying market? It didn’t matter. That helpless cockroach let me “pay it forward” so favor would boomerang back only ten minutes later.

So, here I was, two weeks after a cockroach saved my life, catching some rays on a quiet volcanic beach in southern Taiwan… and there it was, also. I hadn’t seen one since I was nine. Of course, grandma and grandpa told me not to touch them because they sting. As waves kept flopping upon the water-balloon-sized jellyfish, I realized, he was a beautiful creature, though, he didn’t belong here.

Beaches are for drift wood and pebbles—sand dollars, clam shells, and star fish… so a little boy can throw one of a thousand back and say, “It made a difference to that one!” This was no place for a jellyfish. He needed to be in the water. But, what could I do?

It was in that moment that I noticed some nails sticking up out of the sand. “How dangerous,” I thought to myself. Perhaps seeking some act of charity to compensate for my lack of jellyfish rescue, I tugged at the nails to unearth whatever hid below the sand. Lo! They weren’t nails at all. This was a wire binding for bamboo rafts. The beach was lined with them. Floating bamboo is part of ocean fishing industry and the round coil they made was perfect for… why, that’s just it! This gives me a handle and a harmless round loop that won’t even scratch our jolly jelly friend.

Wave by wave I nudged our hero. I wasn’t even sure if he was alive. As water came in, I gently lifted him up so he’d go farther out to sea. For a second I thought I saw him twitch. Why hadn’t he moved before? Had he given up all hope?

This gizmo was perfect for the job. I could harmlessly nudge him and he’d move. As waves came, I gently held him from returning to shore, then pushed him through the water toward his home country. Only twice did he manage to squeeze right through the loop, but without fuss. It’s as if this wire coil were made for the job. Finally, in one of the waves, I saw him swim. It was just like on the Discovery Channel. All of his energy goes into a push. He was alive and finding his strength.

After gaining much “ground”, as it were, my new comrade and I came to a mini sand bar which seemed impossible for him to ford with the tide being what it was—and the strong surf being what it was. This was a long, shallow beach, after all. We began to make our way, accidentally, up the beach through something like a channel. As a wave came which I thought to ignore, a voice said in my head, “If he is taken toward shore by this wave, he won’t get back out to sea.” With every effort I could, I slowed him from the effect of the wave, but he slipped away. I’d helped just enough. One more nudge and he was happily swimming and soon vanished beneath the swirling froth. That was the last I saw of our friend.

I didn’t get a picture of him. There wasn’t time. But, I brought home the tool that saved him. The ocean is full of jellyfish. But, only one jellyfish saver sat on the beach that day, buried in the sand not ten steps from him. We didn’t have time to say goodbye, but I don’t think we needed it. I’d already given him a farewell only a few waves after I started nudging him out of the sand, “Now don’t sting any humans, okay?”

After a jog down the beach and back, I saw a young family with a husky, playing right where our jelly epic had taken place. Had I done nothing, someone could have stepped on the wires protruding from the volcanic sand. The dog might have become fascinated with the jellyfish, the dog gotten stung, and the jellyfish been in worse condition than Trayvon Martin. But that family saw neither jellyfish nor buried wire. Instead, they saw waves breaking against one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia. And, that’s how it should have been.

So, did my pursuit of kindness save the dog or the jellyfish? Both, some might think. Jellies sting us humans. Why should I be so generous? It could be argued that jellyfish help keep the ocean clean, just like cockroaches clean our corners. Did I show grace today? A loop of wire dangerously buried, a jellyfish dangerously beached, and an husky dangerously closing were all wonderful things… in the wrong place. Would I focus on my revenge and defense? Or, would I help everything find its proper place? Maybe, I didn’t save anyone today—there was simply a jellyfish on the beach and I helped him get back out to sea.

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