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!

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    I love this post. On a day like today, when I’ve awakened to news of how one nation is treating its citizens, this post is helping me remember days when I’ve had experiences similar to the day you describe. What a warm sense of peace that brings. I heard take note: I prefer this feeling and resolve to take action such that it can be a reality and not just a fond memory.

    • As trite and corny as it may sound, we each can do something– sometimes many somethings– to make the world better. It won’t always be as dramatic as the rescue of a baby seal, but we never know the ripple effects that might come from even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion.

  2. mike

    On the West Coast seal mother often “abandon” their pups on the beach. I came across one a while back. The moms are out gathering grub and will come back so i am not sure what is going on in Santa Cruz. Some folks have unfortunately picked up the pups and taken them in trucks. Then there is a possibility the pup will really be abandoned by the parents.
    Jojo and Norah are getting a new puppy next week. Bodhi passed about 6 months ago so this new little one is long awaited.
    I am not sure what to make of our visit to Seattle. There have been so many changes to our neighborhood that i really don’t recognize it much and there is a large marijuana store right on the corner. These little stores are all over the place in Seattle. A little disturbing.

    • One reason for calling in the experts (wildlife rescue, marine rescue and similar organizations) is that presumably they know when to intervene and when to leave the situation alone. And I would be horrified to leave them unattended, for fear someone would “kidnap” them just as you describe. I get so angry when people “adopt” wild animals and then abandon them when they find out that wild animals are NOT house pets. Regarding Seattle, I don’t know if I would have had the heart to return there anytime recently. I have heard more than one pundit opine that the growing legal use of marijuana is at least partly responsible for some of the rage and conflict playing out in various cities. There is abundant research that suggests pot is not as harmless as some claim.

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