Disclaimer: don’t do this. Some jellyfish are really dangerous.
I went to the beach the other day, with a child who needed to be free of adults for a moment, so I let him crash into the surf with his friends, while I stood on the sand and gave them some space.
Following a series of hospital trips, I felt too anxious to relax and too tired to run (you can only run off so much anxiety before every joint starts clicking). But constant worry is a powerful driver. Already this year, I’d reached the point where I could feel myself falling backwards, the rest of the world a bubble out of reach. Parts of me have been breaking for a while.
So I walked — followed the tide line, a mess of pebbles that stretched the length of the beach, rich with crab carapaces and sea glass. And then, at the far end of the beach, I saw the jellyfish. Translucent, filmy bodies sprawled over the sand, pink flowers built into their flesh. I counted two, four, ten, twenty, fifty…
I poked the nearest one and found it to be upside down, its tentacles slithering between my fingers. We do have dangerous jellies in these waters, and I’m usually careful to avoid their undersides and tentacles, but nothing hurt so maybe this one was harmless? I scooped it up and cupped it in my palm, where it lay, helpless – a little moon jelly far from its comfort zone.
I know of no way to communicate with jellyfish, except to imagine that they’d like to survive. I imagined that for a saltwater creature, a slow death drying and baking on the sand must be exquisitely painful. I imagined them left with the urge to survive long after the means had ebbed away.
I wondered if we all know when we are doomed, or do we carry on hoping? Rage, rage, and all that?
I walked to the surf line and waded in, but the beach incline was shallow and the waters lapping at my ankles were likely to turf the little creature back onto damp sand, to start warming and dehydrating all over again.
So I threw it.
I flung it right up into the sky, where it soared, clear and pink and spinning against the blue, before splashing into deep water beyond the surfline. I sent it sweet wishes of cool immersion and prolonged life. I had no way of knowing whether it stood any chance of survival, but something in me felt better at the thought of maybe. And maybe it felt better too; maybe we both did. “Maybe” was worth the shot.
I walked back onto the dry sand and picked up another.
I picked up over a hundred jellyfish, walked into the surf, hurled them into deeper water, and walked back onto the sand for the next one. As the sun rose and my skin started to warm, I sped up, grabbing handfuls of jellyfish and flinging them back into the ocean. Tried to scoop them up while they were still cool and wet. Threw them anyway, even if they were warm and tacky.
I followed a few. Some of them looked poor — fragmented and floppy. Others looked better; together and kind of bouncy, slightly rhythmic. It’s hard to figure if they were OK, but the sea filled up with hope, at least.
I love animals, I don’t like to see them suffer. I also wanted to show myself that sometimes, even if you’re doomed, even if you run out of escapes, there are still heroes and miracles. I needed to know, for sure, that these things really do exist – and if we create them, then we know. Broken is not the same as beaten. Broken can mend.
When I returned to the beach and couldn’t see any more stranded jellyfish, I walked back home.