By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO | Published April 15, 2016
The ship was at anchor off the island of Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands. The ocean swells were high, but the captain decided to use tenders to bring to the island those passengers who wished to visit it. The island has a long reef of coral, but there were some narrow entrances to allow the tenders to pass through.
Several tenders maneuvered through the small entrance successfully. One did not. A swell of water lifted the tender and it became stuck on the coral reef. Some of the passengers got off the tender and with the help of some crew made it to shore, but not without injuries. Some people suffered serious cuts on their legs and feet. The rest of the passengers decided to remain in the tender, and after several hours of various methods of getting it off the coral, a police boat managed to attach a tow and got it off the reef and back to the ship.
The captain went out to the tender to help people reach the shore. When he arrived, he gave the man who was steering the tender when it hit the reef a hug and told him not to worry, that there was nothing he could have done to prevent what had happened. Then he went about wading through the water, which was up to his knees, helping people get through to the shore.
During the process, he lost his wedding ring. It slipped off his finger and into the water as he was helping people. It was a third generation ring and I am sure it must have been a valuable treasure to him, one that held immense personal meaning for him. Efforts were made by him and some of the crew to retrieve the ring from the water, but the waters were shifting and heaving a lot. The ring was lost.
Everyone made it back safely. So it might be said that the accident with the tender had a happy ending. It could have been a lot worse. But it might also be said that the finale was a sad ending for the captain, a man who has been married for decades and who lost a symbol of that marriage—the same symbol that was worn by his parents and grandparents.
The ocean lends itself as a vast place that encourages long hours of contemplation. You can see the vastness of the sea, and at the same time feel humbled by the small and fleeting sense of self. A gaze at the night sky filled with stars and the dark immense ocean puts a single human life in perspective.
A wedding ring made of gold also speaks of immense things—years of fidelity, joy, hardship, endurance. But of course these are not “in” the ring. They are in the lives of those who wear them. And even though it can break a heart to lose a band of gold, I hope that the captain looks out to the seas one night and allows the waters its theft of gold, and knows in his heart that he has in his heart and life all of the beauty and truth that was and is symbolized by the ring. I will pray that he knows that, and takes some comfort in the mystery that the best in us is what we symbolize with the purest of metals. We may lose the gold. But we cannot lose what it means.
And, I might add, he lost it while helping one in need. What he found in helping that person he surely will find again and again. It is the living gold in our midst that can be found every day. And it is what the gold rings in the world are all about, even when lost in the sea.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com