We’d spent the day on an island off the coast of Cozumel, lying in the sun, walking the beach, sipping drinks— all the kinds of things you do on that kind of vacation— until the water taxi arrived in the late afternoon to take us back to our ship, the Carnival Sunshine.
Sitting on the top deck of the boat, I stretched my arm along the rail, rested my chin on my arm and gazed out at the ocean.
The wind cooled my face as we sped across the surface of the water, rising and falling with the waves, and I was content to sit there looking out on the water, sweeping the horizon, hoping to see something. Just…something.
This is a habit I’ve had since I was a child, scanning the trees or the forest or the riverbanks for some quick glimpse of what I might otherwise miss, always with the feeling that there is something interesting there and, if I can be still and quiet, I might be rewarded.
The charm worked this time because at that moment, right beside me, a flying fish broke the surface of the water and sailed over the waves. The late afternoon sun gilded the fish’s wings with gold and I could hear the Hummingbird sound of its flight.
Immediately, everything dropped away. I no longer heard the music or the laughter of the people on the boat. I kept my eyes on the beautiful golden thing moving so swiftly and improbably beside me. I didn’t move or make a sound as the fish sailed over the surface for 30 seconds or so before dipping back down into the sea and disappearing.
It was a splendid, shining, moment and it was all mine.
Oh, I know flying fish aren’t rare, but the thing is, I’d never seen one before. I’ve read about flying fish and seen them on nature shows, but before that moment I’d never actually seen one fly. So, in that way, it was a gift. And a reminder.
I sometimes wonder how often, when we’re engaged in the silliest of human activities—like, say, singing “Red, Red, Wine” on a boat speeding back to a cruise ship, or jogging down a wooded trail with our eyes trained only on the trail ahead and our ears filled with canned music; when we are engaged being disengaged, some beautiful wild creature appears, yet remains invisible to all but the lucky few. I suspect it is frequent thing. The fox trotting swift and low along the railroad track, the owl blinking down from a tree in the park just before sunset, the deer grazing in the meadow before silently disappearing into the woods, are all there if we see them, invisible if we do not.
These birds and animals share our world, our streets and neighborhoods, but most of the time they are like shooting stars, only spotted when we happen to turn our eyes to the right place at the right time.
I turned backed to the crowd, back to the girls in fedoras dancing on the deck, back to the laughter and the music, with a secret: that singular moments don’t have to be big. Sometimes, if we’re open, if we are watching, they come to us on unlikely wings and a brief flash of gold.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com