In Praise of Men

Today I took my children to the beach and witnessed an extraordinary thing.

There was a huge pelican floating on the water, seemingly enjoying its day as it bobbed on the waves and looked for fish. However, within minutes, a huge wave rose up and came toward it. Instead of flying away to avoid the wave, as pelicans tend to do, the bird was instead knocked over. The pelican swirled around in the current, feather over beak, until it was finally flung up onto the beach. There, on the wet sand, this giant bird floundered, obviously in trouble. It tried to stand, limped, fell over. My children and I ran up to it, along with many other beachgoers. It looked as though something was terribly wrong with the bird’s leg. Someone shouted, “It’s got a fishing line through its foot!” Sure enough, the bird had a fishing hook through its foot, and a line wrapped around its leg and through its wings. There was also a large metal lure dangling from the line, further preventing the bird from flying.

Up close, the bird looked enormous, even bigger than pelicans look way up there in the sky. It had a gigantic bill, far-reaching wing span, and huge body. To give you an idea of its size, National Geographic says that pelican bodies are almost six feet long, and their wingspan can reach 10 feet. Their bills are 1 ½ feet long and can hold three gallons of water!  No, pelicans are not dainty birds. But there, floundering on the beach, the bird somehow appeared so small and vulnerable surrounded by this large group of humans that it usually only sees from afar. I saw fear and confusion in its eyes. It was clear it thought was going to die at that moment, there on the shore amidst all these strange, featherless creatures. It floundered but couldn’t move, terror reflecting out of its small brown eyes. It was utterly heart-wrenching.

I ran to go get a lifeguard, but someone said he’d already been notified. He was nowhere to be seen. I wondered what a lifeguard could do in that situation, anyway. Lifeguards are usually teenagers who’ve gone through training on how to save drowning people, not rescue injured pelicans. I hoped he was calling animal control, as that seemed our best bet at saving this bird.

People stood around, not knowing what to do to help. The pelican lay there on the sand writhing, its eyes filled with terror, its wings limp and tangled with the fishing line and lure. It struggled and struggled in vain. A young boy started to cry, asking what could be done. Then, a large guy said, “Hey, let’s help it.” Another guy, a stranger to the first guy, agreed: “I’m in.” Another guy joined, and soon those three guys took charge of helping this enormous, terrified bird. They just jumped right into action. One guy grabbed the bird’s neck and held it still. Another guy took hold of the pelican’s body. The third grabbed its feet. Within seconds they had the bird immobilized. One of the men pulled a pocket knife out of his shorts and quickly cut the fishing line. Then the pelican opened its giant bill and SNAPPED! People later said they could hear the crack of the beak all the way down the beach. That 1 ½-foot pointy beak barely missed one guy’s head and the other man’s hand. It didn’t faze them. They pushed on with the job as courageous men tend to do, unconcerned with personal safety. They were committed to saving this bird.

After the first man cut the line, the next man carefully removed the hook from the pelican’s foot and untangled the wing. The third man continued to hold the pelican’s head—and snapping beak— still. All three men carefully inspected the rest of the pelican’s body in gentle, thorough way to make sure they’d gotten all of the line. Then they counted to three and let go of the bird.

The pelican got to its feet and took a few steps. Everyone watched in a hush as it took a few more tentative steps on the sand. Then it ran, straight toward the waves. As the entire beach watched, the bird soared up, up, up, high over the ocean. Everyone cheered. The men grinned and high-fived each other, their faces radiating joy and pride. All of it—the bird flying free, the jubilant men, the cheering beachgoers—was a beautiful sight.

I said to a woman next to me, “Don’t you just love men?” She smiled and said, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

So this blog post is in celebration of men: the everyday heroes in all of our lives. When I think of the men who threw themselves in front of their loved ones during the recent tragic Colorado shooting, or the men who said, “Let’s roll” and intervened in the hijacking of Flight 93, or the regular guys who jumped in and saved a pelican today, my heart is filled with pride. There is just something so special in the way guys do things, and it involves action and bravery and a unique strength that goes beyond the physical. It’s just a certain “guyness” that is hard to properly explain, but you know it when you see it. As a woman, it makes me feel proud to be in their company. It makes me feel safe and protected, even though I’m a strong woman in my own right. It makes me feel that we complement each other in all of the best ways, men and women. Women nurture . . . but men nurture, too. They nurture by being there for the women in their lives, by being dedicated fathers, by working hard every day, by standing up when needed. They are the everyday heroes who do the right thing. They are the three brawny, tattooed men who tenderly saved a bird’s life today.

Oh, and one other great thing about men:  only a guy would have a pocket knife in his board shorts at the beach.


photo credit: <a href=""">">suneko</a> via <a href=""">">photopin</a> <a href=""">">cc</a>