A True Story of Appreciation
It happens every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembles a giant orange and is starting to dip into the blue ocean. Old Ed comes strolling along the beach to his favorite pier. Clutched in his bony hand is a bucket of shrimp.
Ed walks out to the end of the pier, where it seems he almost has the world to himself. The glow of the sun is a golden bronze now. Everybody’s gone, except for a few joggers on the beach. Standing out on the end of the pier, Ed is alone with his thoughts…and his bucket of shrimp.
Before long, however, he is no longer alone. Up in the sky, a thousand white dots come screeching and squawking, winging their way toward that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier. Before long, dozens of seagulls have enveloped him, their wings fluttering and flapping wildly.
Ed stands there tossing shrimp to the hungry birds. As he does, if you listen closely, you can hear him say with a smile, “Thank you. Thank you.”
In a few short minutes, the bucket is empty. But Ed doesn’t leave. He stands there lost in thought, as though transported to another time and place. Invariably, one of the gulls lands on his sea-bleached, weather-beaten hat– an old military hat he’s been wearing for years.
When he finally turns around and begins to walk back toward the beach, a few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the stairs, and then they, too, fly away. And old Ed quietly makes his way down to the end of the beach and on home.
If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water, Ed might seem like “a funny old duck,” as my dad used to say. Or “a guy that’s a sandwich shy of a picnic,” as my kids might say. To onlookers, he’s just another old codger, lost in his own weird world, feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp.
To the onlooker, rituals can look either very strange or very empty. They can seem altogether unimportant… maybe even a lot of nonsense. Old folks often do strange things, at least in the eyes of Boomers and Busters. Most of them would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida.
That’s too bad. They’d do well to know him better. His full name: Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a famous hero back in World War II. On one of his flying missions across the Pacific, he and his seven-member crew went down. Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a life raft. Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all, they fought hunger. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were. They needed a miracle.
That afternoon they had a simple devotional service and prayed for a miracle. They tried to nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose. Time dragged. All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft.
Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap. It was a seagull! Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal–a very slight meal for eight men–of it. Then they used the intestines for bait. With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait…and the cycle continued.
With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea until they were found and rescued (after 24 days at sea).
Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first lifesaving seagull. And he never stopped saying, “Thank you.” That’s why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.
This story is a rewritten excerpt from the book “In the Eye of the Storm” by Max Lucado, a popular minister and inspirational author. Eddie Rickenbacker became a race car driver, an aviation consultant, and airline executive. Rickenbacker was influential in the General Motors acquisition of Eastern Air Transport, which was later renamed Eastern Air Lines. In January, 1934, Rickenbacker became general manager for Eastern Air Lines and later served as president.