There are those encounters that become treasures because of the directions in which one’s journey takes a turn.
I’m an Aquarian, born of the water-bearer sign of the zodiac. Perhaps this is the reason that being near a body of water has a calming influence for me; or, perhaps not. No matter. Way back a few years, after I had returned to Florida from living out of state, my mom and I used to tease each other about reincarnation, returning to earth in the body of an animal. She’d stare at me sometimes in deep thought (or so it seemed); I’d wait for the explosion of her words of wisdom. “I ought’er be an otter!’ she’d blurt out, laughing and pointing her finger at me. Can’t tell you how many times my mom managed to yank my chain with that one! It did get to the point that we’d end up blurting out her fun phrase together.
‘Why an otter?’ I asked my mom, early on. She got quite animated, going on about an otter’s ability to swim effortlessly in the deep, on the top and over and around any obstacle in the water that happened to be in the way. “Sometimes when I’m at the Y swimming, I pretend that I’m an otter and flip over, just float on my back. It’s the most relaxing time in the world,” she had told me. Then my mom had cackled, saying, “Except for when I sleep!” That was my mom! She had otter photos all over her room. An otter was one of the stuffed animals that had shared her bed during her last months.
My mom got philosophical on me one day after one of her teasing outbursts. “Life is hard for most folks, honey. Many of us have to go through times of struggle to make ends meet, keep food on the table. When your daddy died, there were many times that I had to sit down and cry, not knowing how I could take care of you four little girls on my own. Yet we made it; my faith was strong. Now, reincarnation is not a belief of mine. But IF it happens to be true, I want God to let me be an otter! It doesn’t matter if I’m a river otter or one in the sea. I just want to float and swim and cavort with the other otters in my next life, be free of the kinds of worries I’ve had.” I got that.
On one of my in-between-job times, I had landed at my mom’s for a few months. Since both of us were avid readers, I’d often grab my backpack and walk the few miles to the library. Taking the back way meant crossing over the Dora Canal via an old, two-lane concrete bridge built in 1959. Rarely was there much traffic so it was a great place to stop and rest my arms on the railing, catch a view. An old looking dock, dark with algae, alongside the Canal’s bank is no longer there. On that day, however, it was, and I had an unexpected encounter, clear as a blue-sky's day in my memory.
I tilted back my head to take some sips of water when a little splash of water near that dock caught my eye. I expected to see the circular motion of water that ensues after a fish jumps up out of the water; or perhaps catch sight of the tail of a small gator, feeling his (or her!) oats. Instead, I stared aghast as a dark-colored shape took form on that old dock, lumbering a bit towards a spot that, I could tell, had been used before. I’m not exaggerating here; this otter, nose to tail, was 4 feet long and actually squatted to deposit a very large load of fecal matter on the dock! Oh yeah, my entire insides were humming at this incredible bit of luck. I didn’t know there were otters in my neck of the woods. Right then and there, this otter became a girl, ‘Ollie.’
Ollie finished her business and then, I swear, looked directly at me for at least 30 seconds before doing a swan dive off the dock. Well, not like the human variety of swan dive. Yet Ollie’s dive showed off her grace and beauty. I cannot swear that Ollie transferred this message directly to me yet I am sure that her presence caused this message to be niggled loose in my mind: Allow yourself to play, Dody. You see, I was often too serious, too focused, too analytical. Just ask my colon as to how much stress I put on it back then.
The library never got to see me that day for I turned around and walked back home, wanting to share my experience with my mom. I count myself lucky that I had a mom who always matched the excitement of her girls. She reveled in my encounter with Ollie; and, especially, in the excitement of my receipt that day of a gift, a message that still serves me to this day: Have fun, Dody! Take time to play.