The greatness of a nation

This frightened little stranded seal was soon to be rescued. Santa Cruz, CA, June 2003

This frightened little stranded seal was soon to be rescued. Santa Cruz, CA, June 2003

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals.” —  Mahatma Gandhi

While Matt was at Ride a Wave in Santa Cruz, a fascinating drama was unfolding on the beach nearby, where a stranded seal pup was being rescued.  I watched as workers carefully manipulated the net around the baby, who was clearly terrified.  Though it had been mostly silent, when the net approached it lifted its head up and bellowed a heartrending cry.  As I snapped the photo shown above, I felt almost unbearably sorry for the little one, and took great comfort in the manifest expertise of the handlers who would make sure the pup was examined, treated if necessary, and released back into its home.

Later that day, as I walked through the beautiful beachside neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, I felt a happiness that has lasted in my heart, making that entire day one of my favorite memories.  In a world that is often portrayed by the media as cruel and inhumane, I had witnessed an overflowing of cheer, good will and compassion.  The volunteers who were teaching Matt and others with disabilities to surf, kayak and enjoy the seaside safely were the primary source of my joy.  But the careful competence of the marine rescue team who went to great lengths to care for a helpless seal pup, the lovingly tended flower gardens of the many homes I strolled past, and the sheer beauty of the sea, the sky, the breeze and the sunshine were a balm to my soul; an unmistakable message that good is ultimately stronger and more powerful than evil.

Not every day will be as beatific as that one turned out to be, but I try to carry within me the spirit of that lovely time, seeking such reassurance in the big and small events that unfold continuously in what we call everyday life.  Today, whatever circumstances you are facing, I hope you will watch for all the subtle ways kindness and love are made manifest to us.  Greatness and moral progress may not always be obvious in the world around us, but remember we are never alone in our determination to add a bit more beauty, compassion and goodness to our days.  Countless happy children, rescued animals and beautiful gardens are here to prove it!


  1. merry

    good morning, Julia. Thanks for sharing your day with us. may you be blessed.

    • Merry, you are welcome! I wish I could just give everybody a day like that one. I’m wishing you many blessings too! Thanks so much for being here.

  2. singleseatfighterpilot

    The readers of this blog have recently considered the importance of words.Today, I suggest the study of another word: syncretism.

    • That’s a loaded term for sure – and since my purpose here is to encourage people, and not to be a venue for controversial discussions, I will say only that it’s a subject worth pondering, especially as related to what is perhaps, at least in some ways, the opposite error: sectarianism. Often, an extreme on one side will lead naturally and almost inevitably to an extreme on the other. Now, on to less onerous topics…

  3. MaryAnn

    Ah! Once again, we are in tune. You put into words the feelings that I have walking on the beach. It is an uplifting experience that lasts.
    Currently, I am filled w/ joy at the Boys & Girls Club helping the children see goodness & learn about happiness. We had several children, who were about to enter kindergarten,
    who did not know there ABC’s (to say nor recognize). There are teachers in my family, so I went to the source. They all recommended “Starfall”. The cutest success story that is unfolding is a little boy who DID NOT want to come to “class”. After doing some of the fun things the teachers suggested, he now runs up to me & says, “Do you have anymore surprises for me today?” God blesses me w/ children! Matt immediately comes to mind!!!
    Thank you, Julia, for the “remembering”!

    • You’re welcome, Mary Ann! You are quite adept at helping to create happy memories for kids (and adults who love them).

  4. Sheila

    Julia, it does seem as though, even now, if we can face the day with a happy heart, it radiates to others. I love the phrase “walking on sunshine”….it just puts a smile on my face. It’s so wonderful to have “windows of joy” that open to us time and again as we remember. I so hope Jeff is rebounding from the treatments. I know he pushes himself everyday, as you have described. I admire y’all so much, as your courage is so obvious. My prayers continue, Sheila

    • Thank you, Sheila. Jeff is slowly but surely getting better since the chemo was halted. They did put him “on quarters” which means he is not to go to work for the next few days; I’m hoping he will rest and heal. We remind ourselves how thankful we are to have good health care, and Drew and Megan send us videos of Grady to keep our spirits up! Thanks for your caring and prayers – that keeps our spirits up too!

  5. Lovely story and one of my all time favorite quotes.

    This took place not far from me, too. Thanks, Julia.

    • Thanks Alys, you are so lucky to live in such a beautiful area! Any direction you drive is a vacation spot :-). Hope you have a great weekend!

      • Thanks, Julia. You too. Labor Day already…it came fast this year.

  6. What a perfect day for the whole community. Thanks for the good news story. I can’t bear to see an animal in distress and make Jim fast forward thru the news at times. I hope that little pup made out ok in the end. Did Matt ever have a chance to go again after his lessons?

    • No, the following year was when we moved 😦 but maybe someday he will go again…I’m the same way about animals; when I was a child I would literally lie awake feeling sad about any stray animal I had seen that day, or even worse, one that appeared to have been hit by a car on the highway. When we were searching for a dog we went to three or four shelters looking for one that was small enough, before we finally bought Pasha from a breeder. The shelters just killed us, we had to quit going. I wanted to adopt every single dog I saw. One cute dog who looked like a yellow lab mix ran up to me and dropped a toy at my feet, asking to play. Her name was Uno and I wanted so bad to take her home, but we didn’t have space for a big dog. That seal baby just broke my heart when it cried. It looked so terrified. But I just kept praying for it and I just know it was OK eventually. Someday on my blog I’ll tell my baby bird rescue story. It’s very unusual.


  1. Finished and complete | Defeat Despair

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