Sailing ChartBorder

Crossing the Channel

Reflections on Hope in a Season of Death


Globally, over 7 million people have died due to the pandemic; over 1 million in the US alone, and 27 of those were friends or colleagues of mine. Russia’s war of aggression against the people of Ukraine captures the headlines of our daily news feeds. More personally, the loss of friends, family members, and colleagues, simply aging out of doing what they love or dying because of accidents, cancer, or other diseases. Or, perhaps, it’s merely a symptom of my age. All have caused me to consider and share thoughts on my own crossing from life to death, and it’s a sailing metaphor, of course.

It is a wooden boat with two masts – a ketch rig about 45 feet long, nestled comfortably in a harbor and tethered to a pier, a spring line comfortably holding it against rolling seas and northerly winds. It has a long and rich history, with each plank chronicling journeys across the world’s seas. The sails are weathered by winds of failure, disappointment, love, anger, and thankfully, reconciliation and grace.

Shalom is the name of this vessel of character, and it prepares for one last journey toward a horizon that is uncharted but traveled by all of humanity – a journey with no return and no images or logs to point the way for the next explorer.

Its bow points toward a lighthouse, warning that the transit can avoid encounters with rocks and shallows, for light will expose threats that would sink the journey. To the port side, there is the darkness of an approaching storm that seems to forever hover, cautioning the lone sailor that this journey is marked by past wars, famines, pandemics, poverty, aloneness, despair, and abuse.

You provision the boat with the inescapable memories of children starving, bodies torn apart by the ravages of war, parched fields of drought-plagued furrows, the faces of mothers fleeing the violence of men’s greed and lust. And yet, those memories serve as simply ballast rather than provision, but they have kept the journey real.

Other memories, like the wind, drive your forward motion. They are the embraces and smiles of a mother, proud of what you’ve become and willing to cast overboard all the endless disappointments you thought colored the hull of your life. You remember the warm embraces of women you have loved; the gentle kisses of the children who leaped into your unsuspecting lap; the sunrises and sunsets; the ruggedness of the mountains; and the richness of valleys with their trees reaching toward heaven.

These memories, and so many more, will nourish you on the crossing of the channel between life and death. Soon you will cast off into these uncharted waters, but you can be assured that the seas have been calmed, the winds made gentle, and the boat you have sailed is worthy, for it has seen much and loved greatly.

I am ready for this sail – but not yet, and not today.

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