Driving to work the other day, I had an epiphany. That though Sidra, the dolphin I blogged about a few posts ago, was sick (a fact I had not mentioned), she emanated love, acceptance, and grace; she was strong despite her illness and in her vulnerability gave so much. I cried thinking about this. Illness is a teacher and we are its students.
I originally signed on to help feed Sidra, not only because I thought it cool to hang out with a dolphin, but because I was moved by her plight. Sidra had liver disease, like many dolphins in captivity, I was told. Each day, I inserted several capsules of medicine into the gut of one of the fish that I was feeding her and threw her the food, hoping that she would get well.
How ironic that in Sidra’s state of unhealth, she was the healer. Maybe her effect on me was so strong because she was sick. We were both trapped—she in her concrete tank and me in my concrete body. What did she feel day after day, the vastness of her underwater world reduced to a pool with a 75-foot diameter? And how had I felt during surgery as an infant, paralyzed and awake but unable to escape?
Sidra died that fall, the summer after I cared for her. My old boyfriend, who had originally introduced me to Sidra, phoned to tell me the news. He said that she had gone blind before she died, the researchers realizing too late that in captivity, dolphins need protection from the sun. Soon after I heard of Sidra’s death, my life also took a dive.
I couldn’t save Sidra, but her spirit keeps saving me. Maybe I am still an active presence in her life. If life is eternal and she exists somewhere, does a picture of me persist in her mind? As Linda Hogan, Chickasaw writer, says in her essay “Animals, Our Selves” in the most recent issue of Yes! magazine, “All around us are radiant species.” And I have been lucky enough to be taught by One.