Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A Change Of Heart: Having Fun By The Sea

Published October 27, 2005

My husband and I are dangling a raw chicken leg, tied to a string, from the second floor balcony of our rented condo in Cedar Key, Fla.

It is hard to imagine why two people with graduate degrees in engineering (him) and philosophy (me), people who floss daily, take vitamins and work in a theology library would be up to such shenanigans.

The word “vacation” says it all. We have vacated, left behind and definitely bid adieu to our usual staid existences in Decatur, where we read books each evening, pay our bills on time and take afternoon walks because they are good for our cardio-vascular system.

But sometimes, the day-to-day ramifications of being a grown-up become just too overwhelming, and it is then that we book a trip to Florida, a place that has always represented to us a kind of Eden.

In this Eden we munch on chocolates each evening and admire the constellations decorating the velvety black sky. We eat fried foods twice daily, feed the sea gulls and admire the shapely moon rising at night.

And sometimes we do things that adults just don’t do. Which brings us back to the chicken leg.

On our most recent trip, the condos around us were empty, so we figured no one would see our attempts to go crabbing from the balcony.

Blue crabs exist in great abundance in the waters around this island and make their way into many gumbos and stews. That day, we were not interested in catching the crabs, however, but simply in the thrill of the hunt.

As my husband pulls the string out of the water, we are overjoyed at our success: A very large blue crab has its claws clinging to the flesh of the chicken, and is engaging in a tug of war with my husband, before admitting defeat and scurrying away.

Then, as my husband is pulling the line up, it gets caught on a chair on the porch below us, and we realize that we are not alone after all.

There is a couple sitting below us, no doubt wondering what in the world is up with the dangling chicken leg. When my husband leans over to apologize, the man says calmly, “Not a problem. But regulations say that if you catch a chair, you have to toss it back.”

A few days later, I am back at my desk in the theology library, with our vacation fading into the realm of memory. As I sit here in my neat dress, with my hair pulled primly back upon my head, I am sure that no professor passing my desk would ever guess that, just a few days ago, I was party to the great chicken leg endeavor.

For me, the most mystifying thing that Jesus ever said was when he told us that we would have to experience a conversion of heart and become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Over the years, I have pondered these words countless times. I have figured that he was encouraging us to become more humble, like children are, more trusting, like children are, and less prone to worrying and living in the future, like adults are.

But on that trip to Florida, when I watched my husband hurling the chicken leg into the Gulf of Mexico, I had to wonder if perhaps Jesus was encouraging us to do something that most adults are pretty inept at doing.

It is something that children are experts at: Having fun.

As an adult, I am so good at paying the bills, balancing my checkbook, washing clothes, and scheduling dentists’ appointments.

I try to answer letters promptly and eat a nice range of fruits and veggies. But every once in a while, I hear a voice screaming in my head: “BORING! UTTERLY DULL! YOU NEED TO HAVE SOME FUN!”

When that voice starts kicking up a fuss, I am more inclined to go on vacation than to seek out sources of fun here in the city. Truth be told, I don’t consider it much fun to go to a play, a movie or a museum, where I will be encountering manmade events.

In my estimation, real fun must involve Mother Nature. True entertainment is watching herds of fiddler crabs scurrying along the shore, sea birds diving for fish and clouds turning into huge mansions in the sky.

In the city, I try to make do with the hummingbird feeder in our front yard, which attracts numerous hummers, which dive bomb each other in their eagerness to get to the nectar.

There are also occasional hilarious encounters with squirrels on the Emory campus, especially when you walk by a trashcan and one of these wily hunters suddenly leaps out, nearly giving you a heart attack.

It is telling, I think, that Jesus spent so much time on the sea and filled his stories with natural things like mustard seeds, fig trees and sparrows. How dull the Gospels would have been, I suspect, if Jesus had spent all his time indoors.

As for changing our hearts, surely Jesus wouldn’t have advised us to do something that he himself had not already done. So I have to assume that he had already discovered the joy of being like a child.

Given that, I can imagine him joining us on that afternoon in Florida, as we tossed the chicken leg into the sea. And no doubt laughing with us too, just as any child would have done, while confronting the wonders of the natural world.

Lorraine Murray’s latest book “How Shall We Celebrate?” has artwork by her husband Jef, who also illustrates her columns for The Georgia Bulletin. His work may be seen at To contact Lorraine, e-mail: