My uncle stepped foot on the boat just as the wind skipped and picked up. It was just enough to fill the unfurled sail and take the boat toward open water. The sun was shining brightly and the sea looked like a thousand winking diamonds. There was not a cloud in the sky. All too soon the little sailboat turned out to the open sea and was lost from sight. But just before it rounded the bend, you could see a tiny figure of a man smiling broadly and throwing his head back in laughter as the shining hull came up out of the water and he hung suspended one last time over the swell of the water below.
Last year I wrote the following piece about my much beloved Uncle Brother. Yesterday he slipped away from earth to sail to the other shore. I am reposting this piece in honor of one of the best men I ever knew.
When I was but a little one, a few years older than our own Little One, I came to know and love my mother's brother. My momma and her twin sister did not call their only brother by his name (that was my grandmother's LouLou's purview to call him not just Dykes, but to always refer to him by his complete given name, Edward Dykes), yet the twins lovingly referred to him and do so to this day as simply "Brother." And so it was that over time this man known as "Brother" quite logically became the "Uncle Brother" to the next generation. A hearty laugh, a gentle winsome smile, and a tender spirit are the hallmarks of this man who was a project and office manager for a securities firm by day while he dreamed by night of one day living for for a season or two on a sailboat. I like to think it must have been because he, like the rest of us, spent his childhood exploring the bays and coves around the beautiful offshoot of the Choctawhatchee Bay known as Cinco Bayou. I suspect he never got over his powerful addiction for the smell of the sea and the taste and feel of dried salt on one's skin. I am glad that was he who taught me first to sail and to know the sheer unadulterated and exhilirating joy of flying the hull on a Hobie catamaran. I am also glad that he followed his dream and did not abandon it for more mundane pursuits. He and my aunt did purchase that sailboat and did live for the better part of more than one year on it as they sailed up and down the coast of the Eastern United States and wintered in the tiny cays of tropical islands here and there.
Today my Uncle Brother is slipping away. He has fallen prey to that great robber of minds: Alzheimer's and something else called Lewy Body Dementia. It makes me sad to say or write the words because I know the awful portent of the reality of loss that they have brought and are bringing to Uncle Brother's family: his precious wife, children, sisters, and grandchildren. Each day that passes brings to light a man who barely resembles the husband, father, uncle, brother and friend that they once knew. It is a most difficult and painful loss.
Yet armed with my faith in God and His goodness, I like to think that when we see those whom we love slipping away from this world in such a manner, their ships have simply weighed anchor and are moving toward the fresh winds of that more glorious place. Their bodies here might be tattered and torn, but where they are going the sails are always filled with wind and the prow of their boat is moving briskly toward its destination as it cuts through the waves with a purposed and much anticipated joy. It is what gives me comfort and hope.
In the Book of Revelation, it is revealed that there will be a river filled with the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the heavenly city. On each side of the river will be the tree of life and the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations. And far as the eye can see, there will be no curse to be found. No Alzheimer's, no Lewy Body Dementia, no cancer or sickness of any kind. There will be no darkness to fear, no shadows, no lies, or false promises of any sort. It almost sounds too good to be true. And yet, the angel himself told John the Beloved, "These words are indeed trustworthy and true." I don't know about you, but I am living my life counting on it to be just that. True.