Thanks to Gordon Lightfoot, I associate this time of year with the gales of November. Forty-five years ago this month, one of the largest ships of the Great Lakes sailed and sank – the Edmund Fitzgerald. The last words from the captain over radio transmission were, “We are holding our own, going along like an old shoe.” Less than 15 minutes later, the ship and all 29 lives were lost.
I’ve wondered about those words, “We are holding our own.” I live near the Welland Canal, so I see Great Lakes freighters pass through on a regular basis. We are insignificant in size next to these gigantic ships. Yet size could not save a ship in those November gales.
Last month, I was caught by the words of the President of the U.S. when he announced, “You can beat this disease [COVID-19].” Yes, the power of positive thinking is real. Research tells us that a positive outlook supports healthy living, which leads to healthier outcomes. This doesn’t mean that happy people don’t get sick. It doesn’t mean that bolstering your strength to fight a disease, disability or an illness is a guarantee you’ll beat your way back to good health. Not all ships stay afloat.
In the case of the Edmund Fitzgerald, theories suggest the captain either didn’t anticipate the rapid sinking or he was fully aware and chose to maintain confidence for the sake of the crew. “We are holding our own” likely suggests they were going to keep doing what they were doing and hope for the best.
Risk and hope
A few weeks ago, I sat with my daughter Rachel in the pre-op room at the hospital, talking through an anticipated surgery. I had no idea what the next few hours held, and my fears were palpable – but I was also hopeful. Thankfully, Rachel’s surgery went well, and we were able to return home on the same day to recover. That evening, I was exhausted from sitting and worrying and hoping. We’ve had enough close calls with our girls over the years to remind me that risk is real – but so is hope.
In 2009, on Janneke’s fourth day of her life, I remember coming to visit her in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at Toronto Sick Kids Hospital. It was my first visit with her, and the reality of her concerns was hitting me hard. The emotions from giving birth and from realizing how much more complicated our life was going to be in welcoming our second child with significant needs were hard to hide. I wept, as I sat next to Janneke’s glass crib, unable to contain all the feelings. A nurse working in the NICU that night chided me for crying openly.
It’s been over 11 years, and I still want to give that nurse a good shake. I needed to be sad in that space, next to Janneke’s bed, because I would need to be encouraging and confident when I left the hospital for home – and for Janneke’s worried sisters.
Figuring out how to live with persistent anxiety and an uncertain future is unique and complex to each person. Perhaps it’s chronic pain, a new diagnosis, the reality of COVID-19, or a sudden change in relationships. Among my Dutch friends, when there’s a significant challenge or a crisis threatening the stability of living, we offer the word, “Sterkte.” Though it’s impossible to accurately define in English, it’s meant to encourage strength, in spite of and through the storm.
As we step forward into November and the winter months, may we be reminded of God’s care, his ever-present arms that hold us while we hold our own.