October arrived and so did the dates for our six-day getaway. Months ago, my husband and I had made the decision to take advantage of an off-season resort special and go on a short vacation. We booked the venue, reserved the dates on our calendars, and bought our airplane tickets. During the ensuing months, we gathered information about the designated area of Florida. We looked at photos of our hotel with its pools and beach, gathered knowledge of sight-seeing options around Marco Island, researched the forecasted weather conditions for early fall in that area, and saved our pennies for the extra amenities we would be unable to resist. We knew what to expect. We were ready.
From the moment we arrived at our condo site, we were thrilled with each and every feature of the property. The staff was courteous and helpful; our room had a big balcony with an ocean view; and the landscaping communicated we had entered a tropical paradise. We were delighted. The pictures may have told us what we would see, but they had not been able to capture the grandeur. While not surprised, we were completely impressed.
Impressed turned into surprised, however, on our first day at the beach. Beautiful coastline, white sands, warm waters, and hot sun – the particulars that are part of an ocean-side experience on Florida’s gulf shores – were beckoning us to partake. We headed right to the water. The level of the surf and power of the waves striking our feet and legs was low. We had relatively no opposition as we waded out chest deep into the Atlantic Ocean. Sea gulls were flying overhead. A sail boat was on the horizon. Other swimmers were all around. The sights and sound, although not surprising, were delightful.
Then, unexpectedly, we encountered a completely unanticipated and unforeseen surprise. Under the surface of the water and all along the ocean’s floor were sand dollars. There, barely visible and nestled into the sand along the bottom were hundreds and hundreds of living sea urchins. We could hardly find a place to set our foot down without stepping on them. We reached down to pick them up and could feel the cilia moving on the underneath of the dollar while seeing the pattern that looks like five petals on a flower on top.
We were enthralled. There, below the surface, was that day’s – no the whole trip’s – most wonderful surprise: life packed into small round circles; complexity of being crammed into a brownish-colored shells; living beauty covered up by the sand. Who would have expected this discovery? We certainly had not anticipated it nor pre-planned to search of it. But, there it was, and we were drawn into the mystery and beauty that was just below the surface.
We lingered for hours floating above the sand dollars, collecting and examining them, returning them to their natural habitat so as to not damage them. I found a few white specimens, which was an indication that the urchin was no longer living. I collected those for souvenirs. In the surreal environment just below the surface, we discovered and enjoyed the surprise of our well-researched and well-planned vacation.
There is legend of the sand dollar in which Christians see the message of Christ. On the dollar’s top, there are five holes that testify to the five piercings that occurred during the crucifixion. The star-shaped spine reminds the viewer of the star from the East that guided the shepherds while the flower etched on the other side appears as a Christmas poinsettia and recalls Christ’s birth. When the shell is broken, five dove-shaped pieces can be found, which are said to represent the peace released by Christ’s atoning work.
Just like the sand dollar was the surprise on our vacation, perhaps the sand dollar along with it legend should cause us all to consider that no matter how well arranged our lives might be, the message of Christ holds a surprise for all who are willing to look below the surface.