It has been a tough month or so - meaning, our church and community have had a lot of deaths lately. Just in our own church: five funerals in as many weeks, four of which I've officiated. Some were expected, some not; all were difficult. As a pastor I've never been one to lament my role in these affairs; I always consider it an honor to walk with others on their "sacred ground" (along with baptisms and marriages). Besides, any hardship I experience pales in comparison to what the family is going through. But even I must admit - this recent wave has been hard on me. Compounding that is the fact that, three weeks ago, our family said goodbye to our beloved Sam, the family dog of fourteen years. Sam was actually my wife's dog and was in the picture long before I was. She was her baby; I knew my place.
Instances like these are always roller-coaster affairs; the emotional back-and-forth of celebrating a life and having to say goodbye at the same time. It's times like these when we cling to those thin silver linings; those glimmers of hope and promise that we find amidst all the sorrow and pain. There was some special music shared at funeral #4 which touched a deep, deep chord in every person in attendance; there was a heartfelt eulogy given at another that was both lighthearted and serious at the same time.
And in two of the services a poem was read. It was the same poem; read first by a minister colleague of mine in a service we shared together. It was read again today at a funeral our staff attended on behalf of a work colleague whose mother had died. It's about a ship, but it's about much more than that. I love the fact that the man who wrote it, Henry Van Dyke, was a staunch Presbyterian and English professor in his time.
I don't know the story behind his poem Gone From My Sight, but it is comprised of some beautiful words that have meant a lot to the people who've heard them over the past few weeks. If you're lucky enough to not have someone close to you dying right now, tuck these words away in a place you'll remember and pull them out later when you need them. In the meantime, celebrate life every waking moment of your day, and don't let a day go by without telling someone you love them.
GONE FROM MY SIGHT
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone"
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"
And that is dying...