Last week in Seattle, I had one of those recurring experiences that can happen when you remove yourself from your every day surroundings and begin to immerse yourself in ways of life uncommon to you. One afternoon we walked along the harbor and looked at the large fishing boats and yachts that make their way from the waters of Puget Sound out to the ocean. Many of these vessels were luxurious and beautiful with exotic names. We wondered about what we would name such a boat if we were ever to have one. Others were definitely working boats…paint was well worn, nets were scattered on the deck and nearby dock, coolers and lobster traps littered the area around them.
In addition to the boats, people….mostly men…walked about in tall, rubber boots and what looked like overall waders worthy of their wet work. The clothes they needed to do their daily tasks was so far from anything I need that I had to laugh. Many of their faces showed the leathery skin of those who have spent much time in the sun and salt air. Lined skin relayed the hard work of the sea and being married to the lure of those waters.
Being a Midwesterner all my life, with only smaller lakes and rivers as the water that calls to me, these boats and this way of life is not familiar and is something I may want to romanticize. Many of the sites that caught my eye that afternoon belied the difficult and dangerous work that these who provide fish for dinner tables across the country face every day. A difficulty and danger that I have never considered.
That is until I stood at the monument to ‘Those Lost at Sea” and began to read the names etched on bricks that lay beneath my feet. It was in a sense a memorial for the sailors who had given their lives…..some recovered from the sea and others not……so that we may enjoy the sweetness of salmon and the flakiness of cod deep fried on a Friday night. I marveled at the number of them, some who perished decades ago and others who were lost only last year. Like many places honoring the lives of loved ones, some of the bricks had flowers laid nearby. Others displayed little trinkets now faded by the sun. I watched as one man read each brick one by one making his way from the lost to the lost. It was as if he was paying homage to each soul now departed.
The truth is I do not have experience with the concept of being lost at sea. It is not something I have ever thought much about. But I do have a memory of a knitter friend who told of how women from the Celtic lands would knit particular patterns in the sweaters their fishermen wore, patterns that allowed them to be identified by the swirl and knots of yarn if they were lost at sea. I have never looked at an Irish sweater the same since.
It is unlikely that I or any of my nearest kin will ever be lost while sailing a boat on large waters. But we, all of us, will be lost from time to time. It is a condition of being human. We lose our way at some point of each and every day. We forget to notice the beauty around us or are distracted by the minute details that draw us from the path we hoped to travel. Sometimes we get lost trying to make our way toward a cherished dream or as we traverse a relationship. Other times we get lost trying to do the right thing or trying not to give into what we believe to be the wrong thing. Getting lost and being found is a part of the dance of life.
When I was in high school I sang in a choir that did a medley of the anthems of our US armed services. My favorite of the group was the Navy hymn. I loved how the bass part rolled like the waves of the sea:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
For all those who are in peril on the sea this day, prayers of protection. For all those in danger of being lost at sea, prayers of rescue. For all of us who may be wandering in some state of lost, prayers of finding solid ground, prayers of finding home.