Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lights along the Shore

The Victoria made several voyages to Scotland.  She carried military cargoes between the naval base in North Charleston, South Carolina, and the submarine facility in Holy Loch and the James Watt Dock in Greenock.  Holy Loch was not actually a place, but a body of water, an arm of the Clyde River downstream from Glasgow.  In Holy Loch, the Victoria moored alongside another ship, a submarine tender that was semi-permanently anchored a short distance offshore from the small village of Sandbank.  Greenock, a busier and more populous coastal town, lay more or less diagonally across the Clyde from Holy Loch.  The nature of the Victoria’s work required her to stop in both places for loading and discharging of different types of cargo.

Much of this cargo handling was done at night.  When finished in one spot, the ship would shift berths, that is, move across the water to the other spot.  Day or night, the west coast of Scotland is a magnificently beautiful place.  By day, rugged, craggy mountains rise up from the dark blue water and pierce the gray sky with their rocky peaks and austere foliage.  By night, these same mountains seem less rugged as they take the form of black masses rising from a black surface into a black canopy.  All would be black, but different shades of black and therefore subtly distinguishable.  Along the southern shore of the Clyde runs a motor road.  This would be invisible at night from the water except for a string of yellowish lights that ran alongside it.  These lights punctured the blackness, but they punctuated it, too.  The off-yellow lights shone forth as immovable route guides in the darkness; they also added something to the darkness that surrounded them, but whether by contrast or by complement I could not tell.  Many times I stood on the deck of the Victoria as she shifted between Holy Loch and Greenock and looked upon this string of lights.  It did not run straight, as the coastline was curved.  Nor did it run level, as the route was hilly.  It undulated, so to speak, like the waves of the sea, although in this sheltered area the water was always fairly calm.  Sometimes these lights would show their reflections in the water close along the shore.  Many times they would inspire me to contemplate the theological significance of light.

Such were the lights along the shore of the Clyde River on the west coast of Scotland.  Of course, they were installed to guide automobile traffic on land, but the traffic on the water used them as route markers, too.  Aboard ship, one uses all available aids to navigation.  Lights along the shore are perhaps the oldest form of navigational beacons, and they are no less important today than they were in centuries past.  To a seaman, these lights that shine in the darkness offer the one blessing desired above all others: safe passage.  Even more than the proverbial fair winds and following seas, a safe passage culminating in a safe arrival is what every seafarer wants.  Lighthouses exist because the approach to land is often the most hazardous part of a voyage.  At all times, but especially at night, invisible or only partially visible dangers lurking along a coastline— rocky outcroppings, sand bars, sunken wrecks—could easily destroy a vessel that chanced upon them.  Dangers such as these are marked by lights to warn ships away.  Safe routes along a shore and in and out of ports are also illuminated, but to show the way.  Both lights that warn of danger and lights that show the way offer safe passage to the navigator who heeds them.  After a long voyage, and especially after a rough crossing, these lights along the shore are a very welcome sight.

The metaphorical value of the navigational lights becomes clear in my favorite hymn:

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From his lighthouse ever more.
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.1

The importance of the lighthouse keeper’s job has long been recognized as a position of very serious responsibility.  Too many lives have long depended on his faithfulness in maintaining the light for incompetence or laziness to be tolerated.  A glance through the history of light-keeping reveals the esteem in which these men and women have been held.

Dark the night of sin has settled;
Loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.2

My eyes, too, have watched for and longed to finally see the light in the critical spot on the shore.  Enroute to Holy Loch aboard the Victoria, Inishtrahull was the first major light we would see on the north side of Ireland.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.3

There were always plenty of angry billows and no shortage of tempest, either, to make the typical North Atlantic crossing a rough one.  After a week or more of such weather, Inishtrahull was a very welcome sight.

Let the lower lights be burning;    
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.4

After a rough crossing, it was always a relief to see that bright gleam reaching toward us across the waves.  Soon afterwards, the Victoria would reach the calmer water between Ireland and Scotland and then pick up the pilot who would direct her up the Clyde to Holy Loch.  Not that this was an easy job in the rain and fog of Britain, but we felt the unique sense of satisfaction mingled with anticipation that comes at the threshold of completing a long and tempestuous voyage.

“I am the light of the world,” the Lord tells us.  “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).  To a mariner emerging shoreward from the dark expanses of the sea, the lights along the coast are very much “the light of the world” in a strictly physical sense.  They provide safe passage as he follows them to his destination   In times of danger, they become lights of life.  There is no question of this, for ships have been wrecked and seamen have perished because of the absence of such lights.  But the Lord speaks to us on the cosmic level.  If we consider life as a voyage from the premortal to the postmortal ports, then the aptness of the metaphor becomes clear.  Just as the light shining in the darkness of a seacoast stands to guide seamen on a safe passage, so the Light of the World stands to guide all men on a safe passage to the ultimate seaport of Heaven.

With this destination on our sailing schedule, we can then in faith echo the beautiful prayer of John Henry Newman:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!5

Philip Paul Bliss, “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy,” in Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, p. 335.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 John Henry Newman, “Lead, Kindly Light,” op. cit., p. 97.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Self-Evident Truth

The freighter Victoria plowed her way across the Atlantic enroute from Charleston, South Carolina, to Holy Loch, Scotland.  In addition to the merchant crew, a naval contingent of one officer and a half dozen enlisted men made the voyage.  Their mission entailed the safeguarding of a certain military cargo.  This gave them at most an hour of actual work per day.  The rest of their time was quite leisurely.  The officer in charge was a young lieutenant—quiet, intelligent, and college educated.  In his many hours of free time, he sat quietly in the lounge and read the Book of Mormon.  With the ship taking ten days to cross the Atlantic, the lieutenant had ample time to become thoroughly engrossed in his reading.

Eventually, others became curious about this young officer who had almost no work to do and who was always reading.  One of the engineers finally asked him about it.  When the lieutenant showed him the book, the astonished engineer blurted out, “What are you reading that religious garbage for?”  The lieutenant calmly responded by asking the engineer, “How do you know it’s garbage?  Have you read it?”  The engineer replied that he had not.  Then the second mate came along and joined the discussion.  Neither the mate nor the engineer was religious, but the sight of this almost always off duty lieutenant reading a religious book for hours and even days on end aroused their curiosity.  In a not unkind way, just with the customary shipboard gruffness, they were asking about this extremely unusual situation.

The lieutenant explained that in the apartment complex where he lived, certain young men dressed in white shirts and neckties and with short hair and name tags periodically came along and visited the residents.  They were consistently polite and friendly, and they wanted to talk to people about religion.  The lieutenant had met them several times, but was never seriously interested in discussing religion with them.  Finally, with the prospect of ten days at sea with very little to do in front of him, he agreed to take a copy of their book.  He said that he really didn’t know anything about these young men’s religion, and he thought that if he read their book, then he would know what they were talking about.  This explanation made sense to the mate and the engineer, and their inquiry came to a close.  They went about their business, and the lieutenant resumed his reading.

I witnessed this discussion, but did not participate in it.  I had heard of the Book of Mormon, but knew almost nothing about it, although now I had at least seen it for the first time.  I found the engineer’s question about the book unreasonable, as I had long been taught not to judge a book by its cover.  I also found the lieutenant’s explanation quite sensible.  But unlike the lieutenant, I had work to do and other interests to pursue, and so I promptly forgot about the conversation.

Until much later.  While home on vacation I happened upon a coupon in a newspaper that offered me a free copy of the Book of Mormon.  The price was right, so I sent it in only half expecting to actually get anything in the mail.  Well, nothing came in the mail, but two young men dressed in white shirts and neckties and with short hair and name tags knocked on the door and personally delivered my free copy of the book.  Now I had seen the book for the second time.  I read the introduction, perused the book briefly, and put it on a shelf, intending to read it later.  It remained on the shelf untouched for thirteen years.

In due time, two more young men dressed in white shirts and neckties and with short hair and name tags walked into our neighborhood.  They were polite and friendly, and they wanted to talk to us about religion.  I had no interest in discussing religion with them, and not having read their book, I really didn’t know what they were talking about.  The rest of the family felt differently, however.  With four children’s futures at stake, I realized that I needed to know what these young men were talking about.  I remembered the lieutenant aboard the Victoria, and my rationale for reading the Book of Mormon was similar to his.  In addition, though, I wanted to know what kind of influence this book and its religion would have on my children.

I read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover.  In fact, I was the first one in the family to do so.  The young men in the white shirts—by this time I had learned they were missionaries—asked me what I thought of the book.  I told them I thought it was interesting.  Then they asked if I had prayed and asked the Lord if the book was true.  I replied that praying about it had never occurred to me.  They then invited me to pray about the book so that I would know for myself that it was true.  This seemed like a very strange thing to do, not just because the idea of praying about an inanimate object was new to me, but more importantly, it seemed pointless.

I asked the missionaries why I should pray about the truthfulness—or lack of it—of a book when I was already satisfied that it was true.  There were several reasons to believe that it was true.  I had thought of this as I had read it.  I had reasoned that if one were a Christian already and believed in the truthfulness of the prophesies in the Old Testament and the historical records in the New Testament, then one had also to believe in the same prophesies and historical records contained in the Book of Mormon.  The additional material contained in the Book of Mormon but not in the Bible impressed me as credible because of Biblical allusions to it and because of its general consistency with traditional Judeo-Christian thought.  Additionally, it was reasonable in the first place just to consider the possibility that the Book of Mormon was the word of God because of the fact that the Bible alone is not a complete record of the Judeo-Christian heritage.  Many other ancient writings on this vast subject abound, but were not included in the Biblical compilation. 

Several sections of the Book of Mormon were so obviously consistent with the Biblical accounts that one could not disbelieve them except under pain of self-contradiction.  My favorites included the visions of Nephi concerning the virgin birth of Christ and his teaching of the Gospel in the ancient world, the discussion of the problem of evil in 2 Nephi, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah in 2 Nephi, and the spoken words and recorded actions of the resurrected Christ in 3 Nephi.  Only the locations were different, and even this issue was alluded to by the Lord in the New Testament.

For these reasons, I believed in the Book of Mormon immediately.  I had no special feeling come over me.  Nothing sensational happened as I was reading.  Instead, I analyzed the Book of Mormon intellectually and found it clear, logical, and credible.  I believed in the Book of Mormon because its truth was self-evident.

Sometimes I wonder about the lieutenant on the Victoria.  He disembarked in Scotland, and I never saw him again.  I presume he finished reading the book—he certainly had enough free time to do so—but I wonder what he thought of it.  What did he tell those young men dressed in the white shirts and neckties when he got back home?  What impression did the Book of Mormon make on him?  Did he like it?  Did he believe in it?  Did he join the Church?  I’ll probably never know, but if nothing else, he did serve unwittingly to introduce me to the Book of Mormon, and for that I am very grateful.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Winter of Our Discontent

Sailing aboard the Wilkes would never classify as a pleasure cruise.  She left the Ocean Terminal in Southampton, England, on a cold and gloomy January morning, bound for points north.  Not a large vessel, she was one of the “great white fleet” of oceanographic research and survey ships.  In addition to their normal crews, these ships embarked groups of technicians who carried out the actual surveying and researching of the ocean.  These fellows were not seamen; they just worked aboard ship.  In general, their type of work was done in good weather and calm water.  The voyage the Wilkes was beginning this morning would prove to be the exception to this rule.

The Wilkes sailed west and then northward to go around Ireland.  She headed for a seemingly random stretch of ocean in the vicinity of the Faeroe Islands.  It did not take long to reach this area, but it was a very rough voyage and so it seemed long.  For the technicians, the transit to the operations area seemed especially long and extremely uncomfortable.  One of them found the discomforts of the sea so disagreeable that in all seriousness he requested that the ship return to Southampton so he could get off.  The Captain, of course, refused, and told the unfortunate man that the ride would get worse before it got better.  Cold comfort, but true.

The North Atlantic in winter has long been recognized as the most violent of all the bodies of water on the Earth.  In the area west of Ireland, where the Wilkes was underway, an uninterrupted expanse of ocean carries many of the worst weather systems of the Western Hemisphere eastward toward northern Europe.  There is nothing to stop or even reduce the wind and the ferocious wave action it generates.  A ship sailing the North Atlantic in winter is therefore guaranteed a very rough passage at best.  What the Wilkes encountered in this area was the norm for the season.  It was time, then, to simply face the storm and exercise the faith described by the poet and scholar Brother Apelles Jasper:

            Though stormy seas about me roll,
And angry waves conceal the goal,
I need not fear.

Though my frail bark is tempest tossed,
And dangers crowd, yea, all seems lost;
I should not fear.

For Thou whom winds and sea obey
Wilt all my pains and griefs allay,
When Thou art near.1

As the Wilkes ventured farther north, however, the weather became increasingly more violent.  As the windspeed increased, so did the wave heights, and the little ship, obeying the laws of physics, pitched and rolled even more uncomfortably.  She was not in any danger, though; at least, not yet.  She had good stability with a low enough center of gravity and a sufficiently high center of bouyancy.  But she was a small ship, and so she lacked the comparative resistance to wave motion of, say, a fully loaded tanker.  Like the weather, this was normal, too.

Understanding the laws of physics and their application to the Wilkes on the North Atlantic did not help this one technician, though.  The ship reached her designated survey area, the weather got worse, and the ship’s motion became even more intolerable to him.  He couldn’t eat; he couldn’t sleep; he couldn’t work.  He suffered from extreme vertigo and motion sickness.  Finally, he had to be sedated.  At this point the Captain relented.  The ship did not return to Southampton, but broke off from operations nonetheless and proceeded toward Londonderry in Northern Ireland.  A week after the Wilkes’ initial departure on this voyage, she discharged the patient onto a harbor launch, and then returned to sea.

The respite from the violent ocean that we enjoyed while this fellow was being discharged had come as a welcome relief.  Once this errand had been accomplished, however, the Wilkes went right back into the teeth of the fury.  She stayed there, too, steering repeated back-and-forth patterns of courses so the technicians could conduct their survey of the region with their electronic gear. 

This routine continued for many days.  Usually, but not always, the ship headed into the waves.  This gave the most comfortable ride, or perhaps more accurately, the least uncomfortable ride.  But still, it got worse.  Up to this point the wave heights had been in the vicinity of 25 to 30 feet, with breaking crests and lots of spray as the wind blew the water right off the tops of the waves.  The Wilkes rode up to the crests, which broke over the bow of the ship and sent vast quantities of spray flying at the bridge windows, and then rode down the back side of the waves into the trough, where the cycle started again.  The ship was in constant motion, lurching at both crest and trough, and shuddering under the weight of water that crashed down on her foredeck. 

When surveying with the seas on the beam, the ship rolled from side to side constantly, typically to the extent of 35 or 40 degrees each way.  But she always came back.  Like a pendulum, her motion was predictable.  She rolled fastest through the top of the arc, then slowed as she leaned over more, and finally stopped at the maximum angle of roll.  Then she gradually started back towards the upright and increased speed until she had healed over a comparable amount in the opposite direction. 

As predictable as the rolling motion was, the simple act of standing up on a constantly rolling deck remained challenging.  It was always necessary to hold onto something, and this became even more important as the amount of rolling increased.  And it did increase in proportion to the increase in windspeed and wave heights.

For a time the Wilkes headed east toward an area almost due north of Scotland.  In this section of the ocean the ship encountered the roughest weather of the voyage.  Wave heights reached 45 feet and remained there.  The ship’s pitching motion increased in intensity to the point that as the ship crested each wave, the bow slammed down into the water as the next wave approached and broke over the foredeck and sometimes over the bridge as well.  When steering with the wind and waves on the beam, the rolling increased to 45 degrees and occasionally more each way.  It became very uncomfortable, even for the most experienced men of the crew.  Food preparation, let alone eating, became all but impossible.  Sandwiches replaced the normal menu.  Sleeping became difficult, although when people got tired enough, they did sleep.

One midnight, at the change of the watch, I stood at the chart table looking at the plot.  I stood with my feet apart and held on tightly as the ship swayed from side to side.  Despite the discomforts, the excessive rocking was by now routine.  The third mate whom I was about to relieve was still out on the bridge finishing up a few things.  Suddenly the Wilkes gave a lurch to starboard and shuddered, apparently hit on the port side by a wave out of synch with the rest of them.  A moment later the normal violent rocking resumed, but now the ship was taking bigger rolls.  Finally, the biggest one hit.  I gripped the railing in front of the chart table tightly as the Wilkes rolled over ever farther to starboard.  The chartroom seemed to spin around me.  The deck became more nearly vertical than horizontal, and the bulkheads more nearly horizontal than vertical.  On the bulkhead just to the left of the chart table was a bookshelf containing many volumes of sight reduction tables, large hard bound tomes used in celestial navigation. As was standard, a safety bar extended across the open front of each shelf.  As the ship leaned over and reached her new maximum angle of roll with me leaning at an outlandish angle in the opposite direction, these many volumes spilled out of their shelves, jumped over the safety bars, and rained down upon me.  Book after book hit me on the head and shoulders, bounced off, and went clattering onto the deck.  I could do nothing but hold on and wait for it to end.  When the ship stopped rolling, she hung in the balance for a very long and quiet moment, as if reluctant to right herself.  The third mate on the bridge broke the silence and called out, “We hit 55 degrees on that one!”  He was hanging from the overhead in front of the inclinometer and just happened to notice.  Then the Wilkes slowly started rolling back.  She accelerated through the upright position and rolled over almost 55 degrees to port.  The books adrift on the deck skated all over the place, hitting me in the ankles and shins this time. 

After cleaning up the mess of displaced books, I relieved the watch and remained on duty until 4:00am.  Except for this extremely rough weather, it was a routine night at sea.  The ship took many additional rolls of 50 degrees and more, but we just held on tight and stayed the course.  The next day, however, it became more serious.

Across the corridor in the radio room, some equipment had been gradually working its way loose.  Finally, it broke away from its mountings, flew across the room, and crashed into a table and cabinet.  No one was injured, but the machinery was badly damaged and bouncing around the room more and more with the continuing motion of the ship.  It required the Herculean efforts of several men to capture the stuff, wrestle it back into place, and securely tie it down.  This coupled with the midnight madness changed the Captain’s mind about continuing the survey.  Over the protests of the head technician, then, he ordered the operation broken off, and the Wilkes turned south toward Edinburgh.

Once the Wilkes came into the lee of Scotland, the weather improved significantly.  The windspeed decreased, the wave heights shrank, and the little ship provided a less uncomfortable journey. Finally, one morning the Wilkes entered the Firth of Fourth and dropped anchor just offshore from Leith, the harbor adjacent to Edinburgh.  Fog enshrouded the area, and snow was falling.  But there was no wind, and the water was calm. This was the civilized way to go to sea!  What a pleasant change! 

I did not think of it this way at the time, but it illustrated a good scriptural point: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11).  No one among the Wilkes’ crew would have appreciated the still air and calm water nearly as much if the ship had not just previously been so savagely tempest-tossed on the winter time North Atlantic.  If fair winds and following seas were a seaman’s only experience, he would never learn to appreciate them and would never learn to respect the great power and majesty of the ocean.  He would never grow sufficiently in his profession, and would remain an ignorant and underqualified seaman.  The scriptures express this point well: “if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).  When a seaman has survived the storm, acquired the experience that does him good, and returned safely to port, then he can echo Nephi’s prayer of thanksgiving and say, “My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep” (2 Nephi 4:20).

Sailing aboard the Wilkes in this tempestuous winter on the North Atlantic did not qualify as a pleasure cruise; on the contrary, it was a valuable experience in patience and endurance and fortitude.  It remains a lesson I would not have chosen, but one I’m grateful to have learned.

1 Br. Apelles Jasper, FSC, (given name: Joseph L. Scanlon), “Fear Not,” in The Manhattan Quarterly, April, 1914, p. 294.  Brother Jasper is the author’s great-granduncle.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love at First Sight

On a beautiful summer day, the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg steamed slowly into the anchorage in front of Georgetown, Ascension Island.  Several of us watched from the town dock.  When the ship was securely anchored, a local launch service took us and our luggage out to the meet it.  It was crew change time.  We went aboard, met the fellows we were replacing, and got to work.  A little while later, these men went ashore in the launch.  The ship spent the afternoon loading cargo and supplies.  When that operation was complete, she weighed anchor and sailed.

            I was a young third mate with a still almost-brand-new license when I joined the Vandenberg.  I thought I knew exactly what the future held for me: sailing on more ships, upgrading my license at appropriate intervals, and hopefully attaining the ultimate license of Master by age thirty.  In the process I would learn the craft of the sea thoroughly and travel to as many parts of the world as possible.  When all this was done, I thought I might attend a university and study history and languages just for fun, but that was not definite yet.  For the immediate future, I was content to set sail and accumulate sufficient sea time to qualify for the second mate’s exams.

The Vandenberg sailed southeast from Ascension Island.  A range instrumentation vessel, she spent three weeks in the South Atlantic on special operations.  Following this voyage, she returned to Ascension Island, conducted more special operations, paid a visit to Monrovia, Liberia, conducted yet more special operations, and eventually returned to the United States, docking in Port Canaveral, Florida.  Compared to other assignments, the Vandenberg was a clean and easy job with lots of time at sea and in good weather.  But that was about to change.  Bids had been put out for a shipyard overhaul, and the contract was awarded to the Todd Shipyard in Brooklyn.  The ship then sailed north from Florida, out of the balmy southern seas and into the late November chill of the American Northeast.  This was close to home for me.  I enjoyed that part of the new schedule, but I could have done without the cold.  Warm weather cruising had become mildly addictive.

With a few days off in early December, I went to Maine to visit a few school friends.  Admittedly, this was a lark, a fun thing to do with no long term repercussions.  I would return to the ship the next day, go back to work, and that would be that.  Famous last words.

While in Maine I had the completely unexpected pleasure of being introduced to a very special young lady.  Of course, we had never seen each other before; in fact, we had never even known of each other’s existence.  As total strangers, then, we became so thoroughly engrossed in conversation that, for my part at least, it overshadowed everything else in life.  On my return to the Vandenberg in Brooklyn the next day, my attention to the business of the ship was only half present.  The other half of my attention remained focused on the young lady in Maine.

For reasons that are difficult to articulate, Miss Patricia Kathren Rivard impressed me as a fascinating person.  If nothing else, Miss Patty’s background was certainly atypical of one from Maine.  A lifelong American citizen, she was born in Nürnberg, Germany, to an American military father and a German mother.  She grew up in a bilingual household, lived in both Germany and the United States, and was educated in both Army schools and American public schools.  Since then, her father had retired from the military.  The family lived in Sanford, Maine, Miss Patty’s father’s hometown.  He had settled his wife, three children, and mother-in-law there several years earlier when the Army had required his presence in Vietnam.  Included in Miss Patty’s household, then, was her German grandmother, her Oma.  A few blocks away lived her father’s parents, her Memere and Pepere who were Quebecois by birth.

My return to the Vandenberg in the shipyard in Brooklyn quickly followed my receipt of all this information.  We promptly initiated a lively correspondence by both mail and telephone, and we carried it on through the long winter months of the Vandenberg’s overhaul.  Additionally, Miss Patty traveled to New York for visits twice during the winter.   When the cold weather was nearly finished, so also was the shipyard work.  On its completion, the ship sailed south again, back to its base of operations in Florida.

            The poet Robert Frost once wrote of the many junction points that we come upon as we amble our way through life.  Each of these junctions requires us to make a decision that concerns not only the road we will follow, but also the direction our lives will take:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.1

After an interval in Florida to be spent loading supplies, catching up on maintenance, and re-crewing, the Vandenberg’s schedule called for her to leave the United States on a long voyage of about nine months’ duration.  I was free to remain on board, make the voyage, and add to the accumulation of sea time and experience that I needed to qualify for the second mate’s exams, or to leave the ship before she sailed and take my vacation.  Had I never met Miss Patty, I most certainly would have stayed aboard and gone back to sea.  But the thought of this very special young lady in Maine shed a different light on these two options.

This decision was the junction point where, metaphorically, the two roads in the woods diverged.  I could not travel both, and so I looked down not just one but both of them as far I could before making this important decision.  If I made the long voyage aboard the Vandenberg, I would accelerate my career advancement. If I took my vacation, I would become better acquainted with Miss Patty and in all likelihood accelerate my marriage prospects.  We had already seen that coming, anyway.  In essence, it came down to a question of values.  What was more important, marriage or career?  The pundits aboard ship argued in favor of making the upcoming long voyage.  Women were a dime a dozen, they asserted, hardly worth sacrificing a golden opportunity to return to sea and accumulate the experience necessary to qualify for the second mate’s exams.  That was much more important.  A romantic entanglement would only impede professional advancement; it could wait until later—much later.  I knew something was seriously wrong with this line of reasoning even before I learned about eternal marriage and that families are forever.

Looked at in this light, the choice became much easier.  I’m happy to report that I took my vacation.  In that interval, and with the approval of Miss Patty’s parents and grandparents, we announced our engagement.  Then I went back to sea for a time aboard a different ship, the Mercury.  It never occurred to me way back then that I would tell this tale ages hence, but the simple truth was that

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.2

Eventually, after sailing aboard the Mercury for a time and then aboard the Wilkes and the Victoria, I did take the exams and upgrade my license to second mate.  So in the end, I did not lose anything; on the contrary, I continued in my professional career at a reasonable pace and eventually upgraded my license to chief mate with a limited-tonnage endorsement as Master.  Much more importantly, though, I was blessed to receive in marriage the very special young lady in Maine not just once, but twice.  Twenty years after our wedding, we were sealed for time and eternity in the new Boston Temple.

1 Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
2 Ibid.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Money For the Gods

The Rigel spent the summer months criss-crossing the Mediterranean.  Upon that great inland sea of the Roman Empire, she hauled cargo after cargo to seaport after seaport on a seemingly unending series of short voyages that covered relatively few miles but touched on a wide range of cultures and nationalities.  One of the most fascinating bodies of water in the world, the Mediterranean, the Mare Nostrum of the ancient Romans, held the promise of both something old and mysterious and something new and mysterious at every turn.  A battleground for many centuries of human history, the great Mediterranean was fought over by the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome as well.  Just as the civilizations that the ancients established have never become completely extinct, neither have their deities.  On the contrary, they found an admirer aboard the Rigel.

James James had come aboard the Rigel in Norfolk.  A colorful character, he sailed as second mate.  With his disheveled shoulder-length mop of salt-and-pepper hair, his food-stained gray beard, his freshly wrinkled grease-stained khakis, and his ever-present cigar that jutted out from his brown teeth, James James looked every inch the professional American Merchant Marine officer.  Originally from the Pamlico Sound shoreline of North Carolina, he had studied physics and engineering at Harvard University, and shortly after graduation decided to go to sea.  Aboard the Rigel, he was regarded as the smartest man on the ship.  This was a fitting accolade, for he really was extremely intelligent.  He had been educated in both the sciences and the humanities, was conversant in several languages, and could read Greek and Latin.  He also maintained lively interests in history and classical music.  On long bridge watches he would often hum the great symphonic masterpieces to himself.  Much of this music was religious in nature, yet religion was a subject that he wrote off as complete nonsense.  In an ironic twist of character, then, James James would entertain himself with Handel’s Messiah or Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, and simultaneously mutter about the folly of the human race in inventing something as ridiculous as religion.

But he did do one thing religiously.  As the primary navigational officer aboard the Rigel, James James was always very concerned about the state of the weather.  In addition to depending on the scientific methods of forecasting the weather, he relied on a very ancient practice of ensuring good weather for the Rigel’s voyages.  Essentially, he bought good weather.

Almost daily, James James would stride across the wing of the bridge, gaze fiercely upon the sea, extract several coins from his pockets, and with great drama throw them overboard.  The coins would catch the wind and tumble edge over edge into the water making small but distinct splashes.  They would be left behind to sink to the bottom of the Mediterranean as the Rigel plowed inexorably on to her next destination.  This small sacrifice having been made, the ship would enjoy smooth sailing through a calm sea under a sunny sky for the next day or two.  Then it would be time once again to render another payment unto the gods in order that the good weather and the smooth sea would continue.

When asked about this practice, James James was always happy to explain.  He would hold forth on the necessity of appeasing the gods for good weather for the safety of the ship and its crew.  But, he would always add, one had to do this intelligently or else it wouldn’t work.

“The gods are very particular,” he taught.  “You need to give them something, but you don’t want to throw in too much.  A few lire, a few pesetas, a few escudos, some drachmas.  You can even give them some American money, but nothing over half a buck or they’ll think you’re trying to buy them out, and they don’t like that.  They’ll get mad at you then, and they’ll send you bad weather instead of good.  But don’t throw in too little, either.  Then they’ll think you’re a cheapskate.  The gods are very sensitive that way.”

“What gods?” Someone challenged him once.  “You don’t even believe in God.  Why do you do this?”

“This is different,” James James retorted.  “The safety of the ship is at stake.”

This point made an impression.  Thereafter it became common to see one or two other fellows thoughtfully tossing coins into the water as well.  None followed this practice as religiously as James James, although one did come close.  That was Schnickelfritz, the cadet.  He was a student at the New York State Maritime College and was assigned to the Rigel for the summer for his apprenticeship.  James James worked closely with this young man to teach him the ways of the sea, and the financial appeasement of the gods formed an important part of his training.  Often on overcast mornings, James James and sometimes Schnickelfritz as well would dutifully throw a handful of coins overboard.  Within an hour, the clouds would part, the sky would become a clear blue, and the sun would shine down upon the Rigel for the rest of the day.  When this happened repeatedly, it went a long way toward convincing a largely uneducated crew of the brilliance of James James’ methods.

Captain Viera, however, was not fooled by any of it.  He was every bit as intelligent as James James, and he believed in God—not the Roman gods or the Greek gods, but the real God.  He watched and smiled as his conscientious second mate threw several coins overboard one sunny and clear afternoon.  “This poor guy!” He exclaimed, laughing.  “He’s throwing all his money into the water.  We’d better have good weather now, or all that money will be wasted!”

The Rigel did enjoy good weather that summer, but not because of James James’ contributions to the gods.  The fact is that the Mediterranean is a mild body of water.  Storms only occasionally arise, and they are short in duration.  The Rigel experienced once such storm.  It was intense, but it was over quickly.  When asked how this could happen after all the money he had donated to the gods, James James exclaimed, “I must have thrown in too much!  Now they’re mad at me!  I’ll have to give them less next time!”  And he did.  After the storm subsided, he went out on the leeward bridge wing, carefully counted out some coins, and tossed them overboard.  The rest he put back in his pocket.  Never make the same mistake twice.

            James James’ protégé, Schnickelfritz, continued to be intrigued by this practice, however.  One weekend the Rigel lay idle at a pier in Napoli with no cargo to move and almost no work for the crew to do.  Several of us decided to ride the train up to Rome early Saturday morning for a weekend visit.  On the way, the weather looked very unattractive for a day of sightseeing.  As the train got closer to Rome, the sky became increasingly dark and threatening.  Then it started to rain lightly.  Finally, as the train reached the outskirts of Rome, Schnickelfritz decided that he should do something about the situation.  Opening a window, he withdrew several lire coins from his pocket and flung them outside and onto the adjacent railroad tracks.  The rest of us watched and waited.  After ten minutes at most, the train came out of the rain and overcast.  A bright blue and sunny sky opened up.  When the train arrived in Rome, not a trace of clouds or rain remained.  The rest of the day was gorgeous, and we wandered around Rome warm and dry.  James James’ method had triumphed again.

Of course, we all know that the rain stopped not because Schnickelfritz sacrificed money to the gods but because the train, travelling north, passed through and then out of a weather system that was situated south of Rome.  And of course, we all know that there’s a better way—tithing.  A very simple and straightforward principle, tithing carries with it the promise of blessings not from arbitrary and capricious gods who don’t exist but from a real God who loves and cares about his children.  Despite his obvious intelligence and his Ivy League education, James James unfortunately did not know this.  We who do know this, however, can depend on it.  

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse,” we were instructed anciently, and then challenged: “and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (3 Nephi 24:10).  In more recent times, when this law of tithing was reactivated, the Lord further explained that “those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever” (D&C 119:4).  So tithing will not go away, and neither will the blessings that follow from it.  In my own experience, these blessings have proved invaluable and have included basic but important things such as better employment, better budgeting, and better food storage.  Also, more abstractly, these blessings have included an improved and less materialistic outlook on life and a sense of satisfaction born of supporting a good cause, i.e., the Church and all that it does for people.

In all fairness to James James, I did not know any more about the law of tithing in my time aboard the Rigel than he did.  But I did realize that all that money sitting on the seabed did no one any good whatsoever.  He would never have given it to a church, of course, but if he insisted on throwing his money away, it would have made more sense to donate it to a secular charity where someone would have benefitted from it.  Money, after all, is like everything else in life.  No one has an infinite supply of it; therefore, it must be used wisely and not wasted.  Paying a full and honest tithe is the first step in the wise use of money.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Blessing the Fleet

The Rigel had completed her transatlantic voyage, transited the Strait of Gibraltar, and docked in Malaga, Spain, in early June.  A picturesque medium-sized city, Malaga hosted the Rigel for several days while she discharged and reloaded cargo.  In the leisurely working schedule of Mediterranean Europe, this cargo handling was done only during the daytime, and even this interval was reduced by the obligatory lunch hour and siesta.  The crew, then, had ample time to go ashore and enjoy the various diversions of the city.

The sun set late in the day in Malaga.  Like the rest of Europe, the Spaniards observed “double summer time” and set their clocks two hours ahead to prolong the sunlight well into the evening.  This allowed for outdoor shopping and dining in broad but cool daylight after the town had passed the hottest hours of the afternoon in siesta.  For the day shift aboard the Rigel, this was a great schedule.  When they were finishing their work, all the attractions ashore were coming to life.

I was ashore and wandering around rather aimlessly one evening when I became aware of numerous groups of people striding very purposefully toward the basin that sheltered the local fishing fleet.  Families and friends clustered together, chatted animatedly in Spanish as they walked, and gathered on a wharf that overlooked several rows of docked fishing boats.  Curious as to the nature of this assembly, I followed along.

As this crowd of several hundred people assembled on the wharf, they left a space open at the water’s edge.  The sun was by now going down, and a gradually darkening twilight covered the area.  Presently a clergyman and two assistants arrived, and the assembly fell silent.  The people standing in the center of the crowd cleared an aisle for the priest and his assistants, and they proceeded to the space by the water that had been left open.  From one of the fishing docks a spotlight shone upon them.  The priest in his ecclesiastical vestments was not only easily recognizable, but in the growing dark of the night came to be increasingly symbolic and representative of “the light [that] shineth in darkness” (John 1:5).

The priest had come to bless the fleet.  He led a service in which he prayed for the safety of the fisherman, sprinkled holy water on the fishing boats, and sought the mercy of God on those whose livelihoods depended on the sea.  He prayed in Spanish, which I could understand sufficiently from having studied ecclesiastical Latin.  At the conclusion of the service, the priest turned toward the congregation, blessed them and made the sign of the cross over them, and entrusted them to the care of God.  Then, with the supplications to the Almighty having been made, the assembly quietly dispersed.

The Bible Dictionary informs us that, “The Hebrews were at no period a seafaring people, and usually regarded the sea with vague terror.”1  Through the many centuries since the time of the ancient Hebrews, many peoples have regarded the sea with “vague terror.”  Countries like Spain that are surrounded by water and whose populations depend on the sea have always maintained a healthy respect for its size and strength.  Those who remained ashore worried about their kin who went to sea and longed for their safe return. In the millennia before radio communication, once a vessel passed out of sight of land there was no word from its crew until either it returned safely, it sent a message with a homebound vessel, or its wreckage was discovered.  The old adage that “no news is good news” was never true in the shipping business.  On the contrary, no news was often the worst news.

While the oceans of the world, for some of us, stand as the most sublime and uniquely magnificent of all the beauties of creation, we must still face the unpleasant reality that the sea can be a dangerous place to live and work.  The long history of seafaring attests to this fact.  The last century saw great improvements in shipboard safety, but the laws of physics as they govern wind speed, wave action, buoyancy, and stability remain unchanged.  All vessels, from the humblest fishing boat to the grandest passenger liner, still shudder and tremble when they sail into the teeth of the fury.  The seafaring cultures of the world have long recognized this.  Hence the coming of the priest to the docks to lead the people in prayer for the safety of the fishermen.

Prayers have been offered and hymns have been sung countless times in countless languages for the safety of the seamen.  One such hymn in English, really a poetic prayer set to music, stands out as a literary masterpiece.  “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” was composed by William Whiting in England in 1860.  A year later, the Rev. John B. Dykes, an Anglican clergyman, put it to music.  Its entreaty for divine mercy is reverently and masterfully expressed:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Enumerating as if from a menu such dangers of the deep as “angry tumult,” “wild confusion,” “rock and tempest,” “fire and foe,” and “chaos dark and rude,” the poet begs the Lord’s peace and protection for those at sea and implores repeatedly,

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Then he concludes on a note of optimism and gratitude:

            Protect them wheresoe’er they go;
            Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
            Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

William Whiting has artistically set in verse the plea common to all the seafaring cultures of the world, a plea for a safe voyage and a safe return home.  In a less artistic but more liturgical way, the Spanish priest in Malaga did the same thing for his congregation.  I felt privileged to have chanced upon this service, and I trust that over the years this man’s prayers have aided me in my many voyages aboard the Rigel and subsequent ships.

1 in Holy Bible, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979, p. 774.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Burial at Sea

The refrigerated freighter Rigel had left Norfolk, Virginia, two days earlier, and now she was crossing the Atlantic bound for the Mediterranean.  It would be a ten-day transit, with the first port of call in Malaga, Spain.  The ship rode gently in a long, low swell.  The June weather was mild and the sky spotted with only an occasional altocumulus cloud.  Sunset was not far off.  It was truly a beautiful day at sea.

In addition to the usual cargo of refrigerated and frozen foodstuffs and military supplies on this voyage, the Rigel also carried an urn.  Its contents were the remains of an employee, and they were to be committed to the deep with appropriate ceremony this very day.  Captain Manuel G. Viera would preside and conduct at this burial shortly after dinner.

            I don’t recall the deceased seaman’s name, but the circumstances of his unfortunate demise were such that I would not mention his name if I knew it.  It’s amazing how different people can be.  Captain Viera was the quintessential officer and gentleman; the man he would soon lay to rest was anything but that.

Those who had known this man all told the same story.  He had entangled himself with a woman with whom he had no legitimate business beyond exchanging verbal pleasantries.  As often happens in these cases, the situation ballooned out of control.  At a time when the two apparently thought themselves safe from discovery, the woman’s husband came in unannounced.  What he found taking place in his own home enraged him.  A violent altercation between the two men ensued.  One finished the day in jail; the other in a morgue.  I don’t know what became of the woman.

At the appointed time, the off-duty officers and crew of the Rigel gathered just forward of the deck house on the port side.  This was the leeward side of the ship.  Captain Viera arrived a moment or so later.  He was accompanied by another officer who brought the urn and a book.  Everyone assumed a respectful stance in two loosely formed ranks facing each other across a small open space.  Captain Viera stood at the head of the two columns and faced the water.  He opened the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church and began conducting the service of burial from it.  He solemnly intoned the prayers for the repose of the faithful departed, led the assembly in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and then committed the ashes of the deceased to the deep.

On cue, a younger officer took the urn, brought it to the side of the ship, and proceeded to empty its contents into the sea below.  Most of this dust fell gracefully into the water as expected.  In an instant, though, a sharp gust of wind arose and caught the last of the ashes.  It blew them back, as it were, upward and over the bulwarks and into the very faces of those assembled on deck.  They say the sea never gives up its dead, but this once the dead had the last laugh.  The assembly on deck reacted with revulsion to the dead man’s ashes touching their skin and their hair.  Captain Viera remained unruffled, however.  He quickly restored order in his quiet but authoritative manner.  He then concluded the ceremony and dismissed the ship’s company.  One man remained behind with a broom to dispatch the remaining ashes.

I watched this funeral from the port bridge wing—a balcony view, so to speak.  When it was finished, it was my job to assist in determining the exact latitude and longitude of the burial spot along with the depth of the water.  This information would be relayed to the man’s family, along with a description of the burial ceremony itself.  I hoped that this official version would omit the detail of the ashes being blown back aboard ship.  The family did not need to know that; they had enough unpleasant information already.

As young as I was at the time, I knew that this burial at sea could have been prevented.  Sometimes the simplest principles yield the best results.  Obedience is a good example.  If people would obey the laws that the Lord has given them, they would stay out of trouble.  If the seaman in question had obeyed one of these laws, he would not have been killed. In disobeying the sixth commandment, he chose to do something universally acknowledged as wrong, and as a result he came to a violent and tragic end.  How sad.  The instructions were clear and concise: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  The result that befell this man illustrates the practical wisdom of simple obedience.  In addition, there is the moral wisdom of this commandment.  Adultery is wrong; it destroys marriages, divides families, and ruins childhoods.  Surely nothing good would come from it, for “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).  On the contrary, “the obedient shall eat the good of the land” (D&C 64:34).

Captain Viera was one of the obedient.  He looked the part, too.  His immaculate dress and grooming conveyed a sense of both physical and spiritual cleanliness.  Respected throughout the fleet, he was acknowledged by all who knew him as a morally upright and virtuous man.  Sailing with him for several months aboard the Rigel, I came to witness this for myself.  Captain Viera was a devout Catholic.  He prayed the rosary every day at sea and attended church when possible in port.  He never used profane language, never took the Lord’s name in vain, and never made critical remarks about anyone else.  He did not drink or smoke.  He was a family man who regretted his extended absences from his family.  He married once, and it was a lifelong marriage to one woman.

Professionally, Captain Viera enjoyed an excellent reputation.  He was a highly skilled shiphandler and navigator with many, many years of seafaring experience.  He always treated his subordinates fairly and equitably, although he could be firm and businesslike when necessary.  Largely a self-educated man, he had risen from the unlicensed ranks to become an officer.  He started his career as an ordinary seaman doing the dirtiest jobs aboard ship.  He concluded his career as the permanent Master of the Rigel.  While Captain Viera may not literally have eaten “the good of the land,” he most certainly partook of the good of the sea, and he enjoyed a fine career.

“It must needs be,” explained Lehi, “that there is an opposition in all things.  If not so, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.  Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11).  The fact that Captain Viera was surrounded by shipmates whose behavioral standards were often less than stellar made him all the more remarkable  He was not a tall man, but his personal conduct, professional demeanor, and moral standards shone forth so clearly that he certainly seemed to stand a little taller than most others.  On the afternoon of the funeral aboard the Rigel, it became impossible not to compare the two principal figures, the one conducting the service and the one for whom the service was conducted.  Both teach us valuable lessons.  The better man’s life standards are fit for emulation; the other man’s lack of standards must be avoided.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Ladies In the Windows

The State of Maine had docked in the port of Funchal, Madeira, the previous day.  A former troop transport of Korean War vintage, she now served as one of the training ships for prospective mates and engineers of the United States Merchant Marine.  She carried a large contingent of young men—if they could be called that—in their late teens and very early twenties.  While the range in age was small, the range in maturity levels was larger.  Some of these young men had learned, through shipboard experience, to remain focused on long-term goals and not live impulsively for the moment.  Others, less mature, let their impulses govern them.  The pleasures of the moment, for them, reigned supreme.

About twenty or so of these young men were going ashore in their off-duty hours one afternoon.  They piled into four or five taxi cabs on the pier.  The taxi drivers’ native language was Portuguese, but they understood enough English to understand the young men’s instructions to drive them downtown.  Years of chauffeuring American tourists around the island had no doubt taught them that much of the language and more.  The drivers wended their way through the extensive dockland area, passing moored ships and dodging stacks of cargo.  After a couple of miles of this, the city proper came into view.  It looked inviting.  A Mediterranean style seaside town with whitewashed walls and red tile roofs, Funchal stood firmly on the side of a hill and overlooked the broad Atlantic from which its ground rose.  Madeira was actually the top of an undersea mountain, a larger than normal specimen of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

While the geography was thus not exactly unique but certainly out of the ordinary, we were soon to learn that the same would not prove true of human nature.  People are, after all, true to character.

As the city proper came into view, the little fleet of taxi cabs convoyed into town on one of the main streets.  After some distance, this street divided.  One could go left on the high road, which as we could clearly see led uphill into the center of town, or one could go right on the low road, which as we could also clearly see led downhill into a backwater neighborhood. The taxis all took the low road.  The five of us in the third car in the line exchanged puzzled looks.  Two or three told the driver, “We want to go the other way, downtown.”  The driver calmly assured us in pidgin English, “No worry.  I take you downtown.  I take you someplace you like.”

All the taxis in the parade pulled up in front of the “someplace you like.”  It was a two story structure of rather dirty whitewash rising from the paving stones of the low road.  As the taxis came to a halt, the twenty or so young men alighted and were greeted in the street by several middle age men.  These greeters gesticulated lavishly, motioning the taxi passengers towards the open front door of the dirty whitewashed building.  “Right dees way, my friend,” they oozed over and over again.  “You have good time here.”  A glance upward at the building revealed several young ladies in their underwear lounging seductively on the ledges of the open windows on the second floor.  Two or three of them puffed on cigarettes as they gazed with bored expressions at the street scene below. 

It did not require any particular stroke of genius to figure out that this was a setup.  All these people—the drivers, the greeters, the girls—obviously worked for the same employer.  No doubt there was also a cashier inside the open front door, waiting to collect cold, hard, American cash from the young men.

I was one of those young men.  Despite having all the inherent immaturity of a twenty-year-old, I knew better than to let myself be roped into a scheme such as this one.  There were several of us who felt the same way.  Once we had taken in this remarkable scene, we glanced around at each other and agreed, “Let’s get out of here.”  We walked the rest of the way downtown.  Without realizing it, we were following the counsel of Mormon: “Be wise in the days of your probation; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation” (Morm. 9:28). We were wise enough to know that the goings-on at the “someplace you like” were just plain wrong, and we wanted no part of them.

But some of the young men from the State of Maine had a different reaction.  The sight of the ladies in the windows generated excitement and enthusiasm from those inclined toward impulsiveness.  “This is great,” they exclaimed. “Let’s go!”  They rushed toward the open front door and disappeared inside.  We didn’t see them again until many hours later, when everyone was back aboard the ship.

Those of us who walked the rest of the way downtown enjoyed a wonderful visit to Funchal.  There were inexpensive souvenirs, good food, and friendly people.  A few of us hired the driver of an antique touring car to take us on a ride around the island.  This was a very interesting experience.  We saw far more of Madeira than anyone else from the State of Maine, from the streets and squares of the city to the farming villages on the hillsides to the overlook near the top of the mountain.

Tucked into an indentation in the side of this mountain was a small chapel of wood frame construction.  We followed the touring car driver inside.  He spoke with unbridled affection as he told us about this modest but beautiful building.  Sunlight streamed into the chapel through several stained glass windows whose designs depicted scenes from the life of Christ.  Beautifully carved woodwork surrounded the altar, and perhaps a dozen or so varnished and gleaming pews stood ready to accommodate a small congregation.  Immaculately clean, this little chapel was obviously well cared for by dedicated parishioners.  From its perch on the hillside, it overlooked a large part of the island.  Like the proverbial beacon set on a hill, this chapel stood in luminous contrast to the “someplace you like,” making its dirty whitewash seem like a tarnished bridal gown.  But that was not visible from the chapel.  Instead, visible in all directions was the magnificently beautiful island of Madeira.  I’m grateful that I was able to go there.

More important than any sightseeing tour, however, was what we did not experience.  The scriptures inform us, “he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit” (D&C 42:23).  We did not lose the Spirit; we kept it with us.  And on a purely practical level, we did not do anything of which we would later be ashamed, or put ourselves at risk for an infectious disease.  The only aftereffects of our visit to Madeira were happy memories.

(Note:  The abbreviation D&C in LDS terminology refers to a book of scripture titled Doctrine and Covenants.)