The other day I was hiking on Monhegan Island in Maine, and stumbled upon an old shipwreck. While it was a scene that pointed to a past event of tragedy and heartache, there was also something beautiful about it all.
On one hand, there were the remains of a twisted hull and still rusted pieces of steel that was shorn off when the ship wrecked in 1949. On the other, one could stand at that spot and see beautiful clouds, a sea teaming with life, a field with grass and wildflowers, and a forrest full of trees that were deep-rooted, and thriving.
It was a place of death and life all at the same time, and I couldn’t help but feel the tension of both of those existing in the same place.
I reflected on the metaphor it brought up for me over on Facebook, for those would would like to read my initial reflections. Yet, something about standing at that spot and taking in a scene around me that was both one of beauty, and one of past horror, has stuck with me.
For me, the significance of that site is that it so clearly seems to articulate real life. Only the luckiest, most fortunate among us, get to live out a story that doesn’t include at least one dramatic moment where the ship we’ve been sailing in fails to arrive at the desired port, and instead ends up dashed upon rocks we didn’t see coming or tried desperately to avoid. Shipwreck moments happen to nearly all of us at one point or another.
Perhaps this spot spoke to me because of the many ways it reminded me of my own life and story, both looking back in hindsight, and also looking at my life right now in the present day.
Over time I can see that I’ve had shipwreck moments where I faced things well, in addition to seasons where I didn’t manage them well at all.
And when I look back at the moments I didn’t face the wind and waves with the fullest version of me, I realize that it’s because in those moments I had forgotten some core truths about these kinds of life chapters.
I doubt I’m overly unique in that area, and that when you experience those shipwreck moments in life, perhaps you forget a few things too. So, when you’re life feels like it’s a shipwreck, I hope you’ll join me in remembering these valuable truths:
Remember that a big part of why this happened is because you were someone who dared to risk– and that’s the only way worth living, even if there’s a shipwreck in your story.
It’s true that some people go throughout life without experiencing a massive shipwreck moment. But you know what? They are usually the people who have risked the least. While from a distance it’s tempting to envy the fact that it looks like it’s easy sailing for them, let me assure you: living a life of risking little, and always playing it safe, comes with its own set of negative consequences.
For me? I don’t know exactly what those consequences are, but I do know that I refuse to experience them. As painful as they are, shipwrecks in some ways should hold multiple meanings for us– and one should be a badge of freakin’ honor that we were among those who lived and risked.
Remember that very few shipwrecks are a total loss, and that so much of one’s life can be salvaged when we have the courage to focus on saving those things that haven’t yet slipped below the water’s surface.
Yes, the ship itself may be damaged beyond repair. Maybe it’s sinking and you can’t stop it. But experiencing a shipwreck doesn’t mean you have to lose everything if you’re willing to take your eyes off the ship itself, and turn them towards all the things bobbing in the water that can be dragged back to solid ground.
Your life, and so many of the pieces needed to live again, are more than simply the ship they once sailed in.
Remember that as difficult as it is to imagine, the long-term picture won’t look as bad as it does right now.
As I walked through some of the small art galleries on Mohegan Island, I saw several paintings depicting the actual shipwreck from years past. As I surveyed the detailed depictions of that tragic day long ago, and compared it to the wreckage that exists on the beach today, I grew in my awareness that the dramatic carnage of a shipwreck tends to fade as the seasons pass.
Whereas years ago one could stroll the beach and find a nearly intact ship, permanently grounded on the shore, today there’s very little evidence left in comparison. In the same way, as hard as it is to imagine right now, I want you to remember that as the seasons come and seasons go, the degree of wreckage from this chapter will grow to be less and less.
Remember that moments of tragedy and heartache have a way of giving birth to new life, if we’ll cultivate it.
As I had mentioned in my original reflection on the issue of shipwrecks, my real-life experience stumbling upon one (and continuing to hike past it) reminded me of all the beauty that awaits for those who have the courage to walk beyond the wreckage.
Yes, it’s true- a shipwreck moment in life is painful and can involve unspeakable loss. But it’s also true that these moments have a way of giving birth to new directions, deeper self-awareness, developing wisdom, reminding us of our resiliency, and can even increase the capacity of our heart’s to embody empathy and compassion for others.
For those who are willing and determined to see more than just wreckage and heartache, there can be an endless list of life-giving and heart-stretching lessons to take with you, as you bravely walk beyond that moment.
Shipwreck moments in life are unspeakably painful– but that’s not all they have to be. Navigating a shipwreck in your own story can be so much more, if you strive to remember what’s true, and then have the courage to keep walking.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.