Sunrise, Sunset

Friday, 28 March, started out like this:

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An absolutely beautiful morning on the Atlantic.

We knew it would be a special day when we got the call from my brother to run—not walk—upstairs to their balcony that overlooked the ocean. Why the urgency? We asked. Usually when you’re hanging out on the beach, things tend to be taken a little easier. It’s this kind of pace we were appreciating in on this post-Easter vacation.

The ocean was fairly smooth, and when it’s like that, my brother likes to look for dolphins smoothly making their way north or south paralleling the shore. And indeed he pointed out the spray from a blowhole you might expect to see from dolphins; except this time the spray was a bit bigger. Instead of the dorsal fins you are used to seeing roll out of the water, their was a large back—sans fin.
Right Whale
That’s a Right Whale, my sister-in-law explained. You can tell by the fact that it doesn’t have a dorsal fin. They’ve been hunted into endangerment; there are only a few hundred of them left. We watched it move it’s way south—spray, backbone, and one showing of its fluke. I guess seeing a whale that s on the edge of extinction should be enough to let one know that it was going to be an extra-ordinary day.

It was our last day on Jacksonville Beach, before we were to head north to Atlanta to visit with two of my closest friends; one with whom I was looking forward to spending some quality time as he had just gone through a surprising and painful divorce. When we left Cleveland on Easter Sunday, we had just received word from one of the folks in the church I serve—hereafter referred to as, M—that some scans observing his progression through cancer treatments had come back showing the cancer was present and, in his words, “raging” throughout him.

A group gathered after church to set up pastoral care, my family piled into the van, and we headed south. Wednesday I learned that M had checked into the hospital to undergo a blood transfusion. Thursday I was told he had been moved to the palliative care unit. On Friday morning (the same day as the sunrise and whale sighting), I spoke with M’s partner–R–who told me that he didn’t believe M would make it through the weekend. Around 5:30 that afternoon, M drew his last breath.

I am told that he was surrounded by—in the language of the church—a great cloud of witnesses; a few loving people who represent several aspects of M’s life. It’s hard to know what to do when you have a particular role in someone’s life (like, pastor) and you are unable to be there at such a moment of transition. M’s death was something for which many folks have been gearing for a while, as he had experienced peaks and valleys with his health for several years. But this happened so quickly.

As I concluded the conversation with R, he offered me one thing I could do from where I was: “Enjoy the sunset.” As I stood on the beach with my family, at dusk, I looked west and drew in the various shades of blues, oranges, yellows, and whites, and said a prayer of thanksgiving for a life that will sorely be missed. In my sadness, I prayed over the sunset of this life, but I had a faint smile somewhere within me over the sunrise that he must be seeing in the next one…….

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