She was drawn to the rescued animals for a reason she didn’t understand.
Posted in , Jun 25, 2021
My husband and I wandered the lush tropical gardens of San Diego’s Bahia Resort Hotel. We came to a large pool. A wet nose popped out of the water and a harbor seal climbed up onto a rock to greet us. “Look!” I gasped, delighted.
“Her name is Gracie,” Dan said, reading a plaque by the fence that enclosed the pool. A moment later, another seal swam past, nudging Gracie’s hind flippers with his snout. “And that must be Billy,” he added.
Gracie dove back into the water and chased after Billy. We watched, entranced, as they raced around the pool, swishing and somersaulting.
Dan had come to San Diego on business. We lived in landlocked Idaho, and I’d tagged along to enjoy a week by the ocean.
The next day Dan went off to his meetings. I found myself back at the seals’ pool. Gracie and Billy were lounging on a large rock, napping in the morning sunshine. I snapped a few pictures, then read a sign that gave more information about the seals. I was surprised to learn that Gracie had a severe visual impairment and Billy was blind.
“Here Gracie, Gracie.” My head perked up at the sound of the soft voice. So did Gracie’s. It was breakfast time. Smelt, mackerel and squid were on the menu. “Come on, Gracie,” her attendant encouraged. She rolled off the rock, swam toward him and lifted her head to snatch the fish. But at the last second, she dove under and swam away. I laughed. She was playing! Finally, she could resist no longer. Billy joined in. I found a shady spot on the grass and spent hours watching them cavort in the pool, nosing large red and blue balls. They moved easily and gracefully, their lack of sight seeming to be no hindrance at all.
Over dinner that evening I couldn’t stop talking about Gracie and Billy.
Dan smiled. “You’re falling in love with them, aren’t you?” It was true. I’d always had a soft spot for animals, but I was drawn to these seals in some deeper way I didn’t quite understand. I visited them every day during our trip, captivated.
Even when we returned home to Idaho, I couldn’t stop thinking about the seals. I often looked at their photos on my phone. I went online to learn more. Gracie was believed to have been abandoned by her mother as a pup. She was found, frightened and hungry, drifting near the Southern California shore by a group of children. She was nursed back to health, but because of her near-blindness she could not be returned to the ocean. A special home was made for her at the resort.
Billy was thought to have suffered a head injury in stormy Alaska waters, which caused him to lose his sight. He too couldn’t return to the sea. He needed someone to teach him to catch fish and survive in a world of darkness. “Someone like Gracie,” I whispered to myself, marveling at how Gracie’s loss had become Billy’s lifeline. And now they were there for each other, a friendship only God could have orchestrated.
In time, I got caught up again in the busyness of my own life—writing children’s books, attending church, staying in touch with my three college-age children. Gracie and Billy slipped further back in my memory, their photos buried on my phone. Nearly two years went by.
In spring 2019, I started feeling achy, like I was coming down with the flu. Within days my vision deteriorated. One morning, when I looked at my daughter, her face appeared blurry. I went to an ophthalmologist who specialized in complex eye disorders. His diagnosis: A raging autoimmune reaction was causing severe inflammation throughout my body, damaging my eyes.
“I’ve never seen a case this severe, certainly not in both eyes,” he said. He monitored my eyes daily. I brought a packed bag to each appointment in case I needed to be flown to Salt Lake City for emergency treatment.
My eyes had to be kept dilated and protected from sunlight. I couldn’t go outside, other than to the doctor. I sat in my bedroom with the shades drawn, unable to read or even watch television. I was terrified. What if I lost my sight completely? How would I possibly manage? I didn’t know anyone who was blind.
Then I remembered. The seals.
Gracie and Billy lived in darkness. Yet they had adapted and were able to enjoy a beautiful life. I’d been puzzled by why I’d felt so drawn to these two creatures. I hadn’t understood why it felt like more than a chance encounter. Until now. Their lives showed me a way forward. I needed to trust that God would be there for me, just as he was for Gracie and Billy.
Focus on what you can do, I told myself. I remembered Billy’s enthusiasm as he barked for his breakfast and how Gracie had made a game out of eating her fish. When had I taken the time to truly enjoy what I ate? Rummaging in the pantry and fridge, I discovered I knew my kitchen pretty well with limited sight. I scrambled eggs, sliced cheese and toasted cinnamon bread. Comfort food. I savored the flavors, textures, smells.
What else? I thought of the seals diving and swimming around their pool. Exercise. That was something I could do. I climbed up and down the stairs and jogged laps around the living room every morning. Late in the evenings, after the sun had set, Dan guided me through the park near our home.
The cooking and exercise helped. Still, the days home alone were long, and I got bored and restless. Gracie and Billy had filled their hours with play. They had rings and balls. After I mentioned this to my daughter, a college sophomore, she brought me adult coloring books and markers. It didn’t matter that I colored outside the lines and had trouble distinguishing the hues. The simple activity filled a void and kept me occupied during that difficult summer.
I might not have been thriving, but I was adapting. My body was healing, my eyesight was gradually improving and I was starting to believe that I was going to be okay after all, just like the seals. Gracie and Billy had given me hope.
Eventually most of my eyesight was restored. I hope to return to San Diego someday so I can thank two inspiring friends that God put in my life long before I knew I would need them.
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