Little Girls, Big Animals, and Forgiveness

Last month in Orlando, eight-year-old Jillian Thomas was bit by a dolphin, suffering three dime-sized puncture wounds to the wrist.

Jillian’s father was filming her as she fed fish to the dolphins at Sea World’s Dolphin Cove.  He was still filming as the dolphin leaped out of the water toward the plate of fish she held in the air, and chomped firmly on her arm.  That video has played again and again on television news shows and on the Internet since the November 21 incident.

What struck me about the story was not that the park needs to strengthen its safety precautions (although they should make changes to safeguard their visitors).  What has tugged at my heartstrings is little Jillian’s generous spirit.

“It really, really hurt,” Jillian admitted.  Jillian had been holding a carton of fish; and the dolphin leaped at her, bit her arm and ate the carton.  But instead of being upset, she prayed for the dolphin.  “I was afraid the dolphin might get sick because of the paper carton,” she said.

Jillian’s mother, Amy Thomas, added that they had prayed for the dolphin for two nights.

I am inspired by this entire family:  by the mother who joins her daughter in prayer for a sea mammal; by the father who records the family’s good times for posterity; and especially by the compassionate little girl who forgives the aggressor and who cares more about the animal than about her own injuries.

I am reminded, too, about another little girl I wrote about last year.  Six-year-old Lucy Magnum was attacked and seriously injured by a five-foot-long shark while swimming in just a foot and a half of water on the  Ocracoke Island, North Carolina shore.   Little Lucy required extensive reconstructive surgery, after  the shark that caused a 90% tear of her muscle and tendon.

Not one to hold a grudge, though, Lucy said simply,  “I forgive him.”  At first angry and expressing hatred of sharks, by the next week Lucy had come to realize that it was the shark’s nature to attack other creatures—that the shark hadn’t meant to eat her and it was really a case of “mistaken identity.”  The shark, after sampling Lucy’s leg, had turned away in search of tastier prey.

And what is the lesson to take away from these two selfless little girls?  I wrote, in reporting on Lucy Magnum and the shark:

Lucy is a fortunate little girl.  Fortunate in that the shark bite tore no major nerves, so she won’t lose her leg; but fortunate, too, because her parents had helped her to achieve the understanding and the forbearance to be able to forgive her aggressor.

We, as Christians, are asked to do the same.  In the Lord’s Prayer we say “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

But do we?  Forgive others’ trespasses, that is?  Or is that a kind of throw-away line that we recite mindlessly in the Our Father, with nary a thought as to the natural consequences of asking God to follow our lead, to forgive just as much (or as little) as we do?

You can read the rest of that inspiring story here.


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