By Marv Knox
My buddy Brent accompanied me through one of the longest days of my life. “Wanna go deep-sea fishing?” he had asked. Adrift of sanity, I had answered affirmatively.
We awoke way before dawn—on vacation; that should’ve been a clue—and trekked toward the harbor. A flashing “Hot Donuts!” sign lured us off the road for a few minutes. Fortified with coffee and buzzing with sugar, we arrived at the dock on time.
Before you could say, “Bait your hook,” we paid real money to join about 120 strangers on a vessel that should’ve held half that many. The first mate lectured about all kinds of safety procedures I don’t recall. But he said one thing I’ll never forget: “If you have to throw up, throw up outside the boat.”
Before you could say, “I wasn’t listening,” a fellow Brent and I thereafter disaffectionately called Ol’ Greenhat proceeded to throw up—you guessed it—inside the boat. He did this deed about 10 feet to bow and, unfortunately, up a little incline from where we stood, rods and reels in hand.
Physically, it’s impossible to go downhill on a boat in a harbor. Metaphorically, however, our day went downhill from there. We set out to sea, and I learned four lessons.
Lesson One: A beautiful day at the beach doesn’t exactly translate to a splendid day deep-sea fishing. A nice breeze and tumbling waves are perfect for lollygagging on the beach and playing in the surf. The same breeze and waves make an over-crowded fishing boat bob up and down and up and down and up and down and, well, you get it.
Lesson Two: The non-breezy side of a fishing boat gets mighty hot by mid-morning. Not only does the bang-bang-banging diesel engine exhale heat, but it pours out fumes. And the cabin blocks any breeze for cooling the body and clearing the air.
Lesson Three: The combination of a bobbing boat, cheek-to-jowl kerplunking of baited hooks straight below the tips of fishing rods, diesel fumes, unmitigated heat and the residue of Ol’ Greenhat’s fumes “do not agree with me,” to use an old Southern term.
Eventually, Lesson Four: The calming power of a constant. I don’t know whether it was Brent (I am loathe to give him credit, since he got me into that mess) or a deckhand, but someone told me the best way to settle my churning stomach was to keep my eyes on a constant: Find a fixed point on the coastline, focus complete attention on it, and ride out the waves and fumes and, I hate to admit it, the fear of doing unto others as Ol’ Greenhat had done unto us. I spotted the tallest condominium tower in Destin, Fla., and never took my eyes off it.
Brent hauled in a nice mess of fish, and I even caught a few. But the best moment of that long day happened when we pulled into the dock, just down the beach from my constant condo, and I set foot on terra firma. Life improved immediately.
This is a silly story to tell during Holy Week, and particularly in the middle of a viral pandemic. And while I could make a case that silliness has its place—particularly during a pandemic—I can say without equivocation thinking about a constant is precisely what we need to do during Holy Week, especially during a pandemic.
Focusing on my constant—the white tip top of that condo on the beach—saved me from Greenhatting inside or outside that boat that hot summer day. Immeasurably moreso, focus on another constant has calmed humanity on roiling seas of war, famine, pestilence, plague and all manner of calamity across 2,000 years.
Resurrection. Jesus’ victory over death. God’s triumph over evil.
Easter has been, is and always will be our constant.
Easter is the point on which we fix our gaze when all about us writhes in agony, quakes in uncertainty, trembles in fear. Easter reminds us God’s love is supreme. When all else fades, God’s love for humanity will remain. And since God ultimately defeated death, all other challenges can and will conform to God’s grace.
Let’s be candid. This does not diminish the horror around us. COVID-19 is a pestilence like we have not seen in our lifetimes. Many thousands of people are suffering and dying alone. Heroic first responders and essential workers are sacrificing their lives. The global economy quivers in chaos. Society staggers alone in homes or apartments or at least six feet from the nearest person. And personal grief unrelated to the coronavirus continues. Refugees still languish in fear and uncertainty and poverty. Abusers still abuse. People still get cancer. Even my beloved dog, Topanga, died just before my county sheltered in place.
We are living through harsh times. The sea of our existence tumbles, and the waves of calamity crash around us.
Easter is coming, and it is our constant. We will suffer, but we will endure. God, who formed all creation, is greater than a virus. COVID-19 will exact its toll. But joy and laughter and love and generosity and creativity and faith will prevail. The constant will pull us through.
Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest.