Wise Reptiles, Innocent Birds

We spent the last full day of vacation in Orlando. Phil chose the hotel because of its fun stuff, namely two side-by-side waterslides, several pools, and a nice, long, lazy river. After breakfast, we threw on swimsuits, slathered on SPF, and headed out to claim a couple lounge chairs.

I was pleasantly surprised to have the lazy river all to ourselves. So we hopped on the inner-tubes, rear-ends and toes dangling in the cool water, and began our lazy day. I tried to keep up with Phil and Caroline but they flowed with the current while I ricocheted off the sides. By the third time around they were far ahead of me, out of sight and earshot.

As I neared the noisy waterfall, a snake slithered over the concrete bank and into the water inches from my feet. It skimmed across the surface like a sinister letter “S.” I don’t know much about snakes, and I certainly don’t know Florida reptiles, except that I didn’t want to mess with it.

Eyes glued to the snake, I waited. It headed into the filter on the opposite bank, and I exhaled, finally. Two seconds later it swam back out of the filter, so I abandoned the tube and ran with the current, not looking back until I’d passed the waterfall.

I lost sight of the snake and was anxious the entire day. Every leaf, every stick in the water startled me. Caroline’s foot brushing past my leg made me jump. I grew weary of freaking out.

On one trip around, Caroline and I passed a tiny snake in the water. Looking closer, we saw it was a lizard floating upside down, its belly pale gray. She begged me to help the poor lizard, but I told her plainly: I don’t touch dead lizards.

While we bickered, it suddenly lunged for the bank and panted like a creature plucked from death. We held onto the bank and marveled at the resurrected lizard. Caroline said, “Praise the Lord! He’s alive!” All this wildlife was giving me the willies.

Another reptile had made tragic news the night before. As we watched fireworks from our hotel balcony, a helicopter hovered over the Seven Seas Lagoon where the little boy was dragged under murky water. When I later read the news story, my heart broke for Lane’s parents. When I read the vile commentary hurled at his parents, my heart broke for this broken world so full of sanctimonious, stone-throwing blowhards.

We’ve visited the Seven Seas Lagoon beach, and alligators never entered my mind. Everything at Disney World is carefully staged, every surface a facade. “Dangers” are limited to contrived thrill rides and motion simulators. Real-world dangers rarely enter my mind there. On vacation we let our guard down, but snakes still creep in.

Shrewd reptiles in my thoughts, I remember Jesus’ words to the disciples: “[B]e wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This big world accommodates hungry predators and displaced reptiles, not to mention humans hell-bent on advancing hateful ideologies.

But we must be like doves and serpents: harmless and true and trusting, guarded and wary and wise. A delicate balance, no doubt.