Why We Do, What We Do

Shall We Swim?“The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” ~ John E. Southard

A friend emailed this. It has likely toured the Internet though the excerpt is new to me. It speaks to the ‘what really matters’ that some people have experienced/know. It’s a true story; a gratifying read that I am ‘passing along.’

It happened every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembled a giant orange and was starting to dip into the blue ocean.

Old Ed came strolling along the beach to his favorite pier. Clutched in his bony hand was 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.

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, 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 in World War I, and then he was in WWII. 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 and thirst. 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 or even if they were alive.

Every day across America millions wondered and prayed that Eddie Rickenbacker might somehow be found alive.


The men adrift 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 on. 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 of it – a very slight meal for eight men. 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 life-saving 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.

Do you have a meaningful ritual that honors someone or something?

Source: Max Lucado, “In The Eye of the Storm”, pp. 221, 225-226

93 thoughts on “Why We Do, What We Do

  1. Tears run down my cheeks … I am very touched by this great heart full of gratitude and I am glad that there are such people. They are like points of light in the dark sky. Hi, Ed! * Thank you *! And thank you, Eric, for telling!

  2. What a fabulously beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing it (I, too, had never heard of it).

    It’s funny – whenever I see someone doing something that seems odd (to me, anyway), I try to put a story to it. I do the same thing when someone cuts me off to go to an exit. That way I don’t get mad, I feel more gracious. For all I know, that person has an emergency to go to…

    • I, too, have a similar reaction when I see people doing “weird” things, Dale. It’s much more kind (sometimes fun) to imagine what significance their action has rather than quickly judge or presume. Glad you appreciated the story.

  3. Great story, Eric. It touched my soul.
    It’s divine gesture of gratitude Eddie Rickenbacker, for the seagull that saved his life and crew.
    Thank you so much for sharing with us.
    Have a nice new week, Eric! 🙂

    • Any time I can share a message or story that touches someone’s soul, I am warmed Stefania. I’m glad his story and the gratitude that emanates from it moved you. Good week wishes kindly returned!

    • A reasonably read individual, Carl, I will admit I had not read Max Lucado. Now I have and I intend to look into his work. Do you have any particular recommendation(s)? Glad I was able to rekindle a warming piece for you. 🙂

  4. What an outstanding reminder to not “judge a book by its cover.” So many amazing folks out there with equally amazing stories we could all benefit from hearing. Thank you for sharing this, Eric!!!!!

    • All too often, many people conveniently rush to judgment, only to later regret having mischaracterized someone or some situation. If we only took a little bit of time to be curious about others and invite them to share their stories we would indeed, to your comment Shauna, find ourselves amazed. Appreciate your thoughtful comment.

    • Thanks, Ger. The post title came to me, clearly, after I had retyped the passage. Thanks for acknowledging it. I suspect many of us gave some thought to how quickly we can (and do) rush to judgment — after having read Eddie’s story.

    • People watching is an enjoyable activity for me, too, Kath. I often wonder how accurate my impressions of them and their situation are. I’ll rarely know but it doesn’t change my interest in and curiosity about their story(ies) — both real and envisioned. Thanks for adding to overwhelmingly appreciative comments.

  5. This story reminded of the Laura Hillenbrand’s book, “Unbroken.” I read it a few years ago and I have not forgotten the story. Although he survived his numerous ordeals and went back home, he was not able to have a regular life. I hope Captain Rickenbacker was luckier.

  6. Old Ed sounds like a wonderful man and can teach us all a great deal about the simples rituals we can do to express our gratitude and the enormous ripple effect it can have on everyone. Thanks for sharing his story.

    • Thus the quote (or variations on it): “Never judge a man until you’ve walked in his shoes.” And to your point, his story certainly help some (many?) of us to revisit and possibly, reframe our perspectives.

  7. I love this story and the message accompanying it. Such a truth we all should take to heart and remember. This reminded me of a book my husband read recently titled Unbroken. Not sure if its the same man, but the scenario seems similar. Such heroic men to remember and learn from. I’m going to have to check right now and see if it’s the same man. I’m so glad you shared this! Thank you!

    • You are the second reader to comment on “Unbroken.” So I did some cursory investigating. Hillenbrand’s book (as I suspect you now know) was about an Army Air Force Lt. who experienced a very similar set of circumstances and fate (as Eddie Rickenbacker) when his bomber went down over the ocean. Both heroic stories. I’m glad both stories ‘spoke’ to you.

  8. Oh, what a magical story that has brought a great big smile to my face with warmth in my heart! I loved reading it so much that I went back to read it again. God bless Eddie! May he live a hundred years or more to feed his waiting birds from his bucket of shrimp. 🙂

    • It seems the story affected many in a similar manner, Kim. I’m glad it warmed your heart. In an earlier comment (above), a fellow blogger linked Eddie Rickenbacker’s (1973) obituary. Somehow, I suspect, he has reacquainted himself with that beautiful, sacrificial seagull. 🙂

      • May he live in heaven where his soul is free to fly on the white wings of feathered birds he loves forevermore. I shall never forget your touching story, Eric. A gift to me.

  9. I am touched by this story of the real Eddie Rickenbacker, his giving back as he found just the right way to do it. I love real stories, after the successful adventures are over, while the person is retired and choosing a more laid back path. There is a man at my Mom’s senior living apts. that after dinner, every night, (in winter wears a thick scarf and parka) feeds the ducks on their pond that is connected to a stream around the complex. He is often surrounded by quacking ducks, sometimes geese. I don’t know his ‘back story’ yet…
    I am a daughter of a nuclear engineer, who liked to invent and test rocket parts for NASA. He chose to retire to a small lakeside cottage with my mother, where they lived for 14 years after giving up their Bay Village, Ohio suburban home. (They got an RV, joined the Good Sam rv club and traveled around the country in it.) Often picking up my children for weekends or getaways in the summertime.) No one at the camps knew my Dad did what he did. I enjoyed going on a rowboat upon Lake Erie, turning off the lantern and just listening to my Dad’s thoughts. Also his giving me the names of the constellations. It reminded me of my childhood, loving having him all to myself. It wasn’t my ritual, but my Dad’s I shared. Hope this is okay with you, Eric!

    • You obviously like and tell good stories, Robin. This is lovely. Thank you for sharing a personal experience/memory that is in its own way, a ritual for you. How good to have such a keeper!

      And do try to learn the ‘duck man’s’ back story. It may be as fascinating as Eddie Rickenbacker’s. 🙂

  10. I love this story Eric. So many people take things in life for granted, worst of all they take for granted their deliverance from those difficult or be it life or death situations as if they have some divine right. People forget to remember their struggles and to be thankful for that which saved them.
    Ed’s story is really moving, and thought provoking. I am sure it has touched many peoples hearts, as it has mine, and hope that it continues to do so. Thank you for sharing it.

  11. There is this family that I consider my second family. They helped me get to my feet as a starting independent person. I owe a lot to them. I always find my way to give back to them. And every time I help other people, I think of them. I always feel like I’m just returning back the things other people have helped me with.
    Thanks for the share.

    • You are welcome. Giving, unconditionally… how cool is that? 🙂 And I suspect this family never wanted or expected anything in return for their helping you. When what we receive simply flows back out to enrich others, we are part of a beautiful cycle. Appreciate your sharing this personal experience, Rommel.

  12. Hinduism is very ritualistic and quite superstitious. We often honour nature and the Gods in order to build up good karmas.

    For example, in India before we eat we must first feed the dogs and then the cows (animals freely roam the streets in India)

    The reasons are that dogs are believed to be the incarnation before human form and cows, of course, are sacred in Hindu beliefs, being the favoured animal of Lord Krsna.

    Thanks Eric for sharing a lovely post and a great story.

  13. Honoring nature and being in/with nature are both significant and restoring. Many religions have rituals that followers practice vehemently as they provide grounding and sustain/strengthen why they do, what they do! Hinduism being no exception. Appreciate your adding a glimpse of the Hindu ritual and thanks for your kind, closing words.

  14. The wisdom of understanding. An incredible story Eric. From a bucket of shrimp to the gratitude of a humble man.
    And for the life of me I cannot fathom why I have not followed your blog before this. I’ve seen many a comment and appreciated your replies but never wandered over. I am remiss. All I can say is, ‘it must not have been time’ 🙂 Namaste

    • Glad the right time arrived, Mark. 🙂 Thanks for creating time to wander over and share your thoughtful comment. I see and sense we speak a similar language. Here’s to continued inspiring and creating awareness.

    • Having read your recent Halloween post Jackie, I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to dress up as an old guy carrying a bucket of shrimp and when people asked what’s ‘your’ costume?, one could retell Eddie’s story. 🙂 Okay, maybe that’s not such a great story but I bet it would work at an adult Halloween party. Maybe. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • Gratitude is such a simple act, isn’t it JoAnne? If each of us just consciously practiced it daily, it would become woven into our character fabric. And the world would be in better shape. I share your wish!

  15. Wow – this was so heart-warming and beautiful; it’s quite perplexing to me how some people find others weird/odd/strange/eccentric, I am certainly one of the odd ones and we all have our stories, right? 🙂
    Thanks for sharing this, Eric!


    • You are welcome.
      I believe people find others weird/odd/strange/eccentric because they too easily view the world either with blinders in place, through biased filters or they simply choose to stick with their own comfortable (yet often limiting) perspectives. It is people who are innately curious and willing to learn about other people and their stories, that become more aware, enlightened, and appreciative. I wear by ‘a bit odd’ badge quite comfortably. 🙂
      Thanks for adding your kind comment.

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