The ocean was wild that day.
The first rainfall in months was hitting southern California and storm winds blasted the shoreline. Just outside La Jolla’s famous Children’s Cove, we watched sea lions ride the surf. One baby sea lion was having trouble escaping the waves to follow its mother up onto the beach where they could rest from the hectic water ride. Although every wave pushed the small animal shoreward, the outgoing water sucked it back into the sea. Blindly, the baby kept heading right for a cement staircase that people used during low tide, and the waves were dashing the little one again and again onto those hard steps. It was painful to watch and a few of us couldn’t help groaning aloud, lamenting each time the baby missed the chance to head for the open beach instead of the staircase. Tension grew as we waited helplessly.
But instinctive mother-love prevailed. The mother sea lion returned again and again, calling to the baby, and doing her best to get between the waves and her offspring, steering the little one toward safety.
What a relief to see the baby finally swim in a different direction. They both slid up onto the beach and awkwardly humped across the sand until they were beyond reach of the dangerous waves.
A few minutes later we watched another mother who wasn’t so lucky. At the more sheltered shore inside the cove, tourists line the fences to see dozens of sea lions and seals that are always lolling on the sand. The group included several babies who stuck close to their mothers. Some of these pairs looked to be having fun, playing together in the waves before landing. In dismay we noticed one little body that wasn’t moving. Its mother was pushing it further up the sand to keep the waves from washing it ocean-ward but it would just drift back with each wave. At one point she grabbed a flipper in her mouth to drag it to safety. When she got it away from the water, she lay down beside it. Once in a while she would nudge it with her nose, clearly not understanding yet that it was dead. We guessed it must have drowned in a struggle similar to the other we had seen. For as along as we could bear to watch, this mother stayed beside the small corpse.
I felt sad, hoping that animals don’t have the emotions they seem to express. I thought of the many human mothers who have lost a child and how I daren’t even imagine their grief.
And then I recognized that I was glimpsing a part of God. There S/He was in these mother seals, showing us a miniscule picture of how much She loves each one of us, her human offspring, of how She faithfully and endlessly tries to nudge us in the right direction, of how She longs for us to live life fully. Everywhere I look, there She is again.