The Best Advice So Far: lights - glowing lights across ocean water at night

The night was unusually dark and the water unusually warm as I walked along the beach. Very few houses within view were lit, and even the moon and stars were obscured by storm clouds. Even so, I was content to make my way by the intermittent flashes of heat lightning dancing overhead — and a bluish-green sparkle blinking here and there around my feet as I shushed through the shallow surf.

Bioluminescent algae.

I prefer the scientific name, which sounds more poetic: Noctiluca scintillans. “Night lights.”

As my eyes adjusted, I could make out a family of four ahead — two parents and two children, a boy and a girl, walking my way. Drawing closer, it became clear that they were rapt by the scintillations, evidently their first time seeing the phenomenon. The little girl looked entranced, eyes wide as she stared at the fairy perched on her upturned finger. Her brother, though clearly fascinated, looked a bit dejected, unable to “catch” one of his own.

I bent down and carefully scooped a small patch of sand, careful not to disturb the glowing particle atop it. I held it out toward the boy. He gladly accepted it, just as carefully joining me in the transfer from my finger to his own. He grinned sheepishly, thanking me with his eyes.

I continued my trek forward, and the family continued theirs in the opposite direction, the mom encouraging the boy to speak his appreciation for the gift I’d offered. “Thank you” he called back over his shoulder in a small but heartfelt voice, though his eyes never left the magic happening on his fingertip.

I walked on a bit further, feeling very much like a child myself as I spotted particularly bright specimens, sometimes stooping to scoop one up and examine it from a place a few inches in front of my nose.

At a certain point, I stopped, took a deep, contented breath and then turned and headed back the way I’d come.

Perhaps ten minutes later, I spotted my little friend where his family had paused to take in the display a while longer. The boy’s eyes met mine in recognition as I approached. I smiled broadly, calling “Hello again!” He returned the “hello” and the smile, adding a little wave of his hand — the kind of wave that only the very young can really pull off genuinely, without seeming comical.

I walked on. He returned to playing.

I will never see the boy again. Even if by some coincidence I did, I wouldn’t recognize him, nor he me. It had been too dark, the exchanges too fleeting — perhaps five seconds total, including to and from. A few blinks. And yet I couldn’t help but think that those brief moments were not insignificant.

Somehow, they mattered.

I had become part of that boy’s collective outlook on life. I’d provided proof that not all strangers are inherently bad, that not all darkness need be scary. I’d given him reason to believe that the world can be a good and kind and safe place.

Thing is, despite my being an adult, he had done the same for me.

You see, in the weeks leading up to my annual Florida vacation, I’d been experiencing a sort of dark shadow creeping in around the edges of the trip. I had a sense of what was causing it. Over the previous year, Florida had become a hotbed for political upheaval, division and outright meanness. Even the childlike simplicity of Disney had been marred by controversy and lawsuits borne of pettiness and spite. Some of my favorite places to visit were still in ruins, having been devastated by Hurricane Ian less than a year earlier. The news had continued to announce the record high ocean temperatures that were depleting the water of oxygen, endangering marine animals.

Despite a well-stocked emotional toolbox, I just couldn’t seem to shake the foreboding feeling. I believed as firmly as ever that “You always have a choice,” yet so much of what I now associated with Florida seemed beyond the scope of my choices. And that was tainting my expectations before I’d even arrived.

Once vacation had begun, I’d used the choices I did have well — choices concerning focus and perspective. Still, part of me was continually aware of that faint feeling of dread lurking just outside my constructed blinders.

And then a tiny light was passed between strangers. A joyful greeting. And suddenly, everything felt simple again.

I stood still a few moments longer, taking in the twinkling spectacle playing out along the water’s edge, reminded once more that a glimmer of hope or kindness shared may continue to ripple onward, outward — even across a lifetime.


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