This event happened nearly three weeks ago, but it still haunts me. The event haunts me and my immediate response haunts me because of what each represents.
My parents live just north of Michigan City, Indiana in Long Beach. I grew up and attended elementary school in Long Beach, and all the time I lived there — about 11 years — I never saw the kind of behavior I witnessed August 1st.
My wife and I and our three children visited my parents for a final beach excursion before summer ended and I had to start teaching. As big sister and I tested the shallows of the sandbar I saw a boy on the beach swing a paddle from the ground into the air and run to his friends shouting, “Did you see that?”
Behind him I saw a flash of white.
“Did you see that?” he called again proudly.
The flash of white became a gull. The upswing of the paddle was a return from a downward swing. The boy had clobbered a seagull on the beach with his paddle. The gull stood and stumbled and tested its wings. No luck.
I swam big sister back to her mother and asked if she saw what I’d witnessed. The boy made similar inquiries among his peers as they made their way to a beach house.
My wife had not seen the event, but she watched the wounded bird with me, as I scanned the other families on the shore, looking for another inkling that there was another witness. As I agonized over what I was to do about this, my wife and I watched the bird hobble about the beach. How strange that my decision making probably took longer than the boy who actually hit the gull.
The bird was not going to be flying anytime soon, and I appeared to be the only witness. While gulls can be annoying, this one could no longer care for itself. Escaping a predator would prove as difficult as foraging for food.
Was I to confront the boy? Was I to ask for his guardians at the home? Who was responsible for this boy? Why did I feel so responsible for this gull? What would I do if he actually killed it? Would that be, somehow, better? Should I call Animal Control? The police? Isn’t there a law?
Two grown women came down to the beach from the same house and threw rocks into the lake as I imagine they contemplated what to do themselves. They watched the bird, threw rocks, and talked. I felt some relief to believe there was an admission of the crime in the house, but I wanted to know the punishment. This bird was now tied to them. They watched him hop on his one foot and flap his useless wings as they chatted with neighborhood friends. Then two young boys on a walk decided to add injury to injury by throwing stones at the gull. The women said not a word.
I had enough and laid into the two boys who did not necessarily know they were throwing rocks at a wounded animal, but who ought not to throw rocks at animals, period. All this time I felt I was watching the slow development of three sociopaths.
And all this time I was frozen with indecision.
And all this time my children were watching me and learning.
I called the police.
I was told there wasn’t anything the officer on patrol could really do.
As I watched the gull hop his way south, I convinced myself I’d done all I could.
I see now there were other options. At the time I knew there were other options.
Why can we see with clarity what we should do, and why can’t we always do what’s right?