The shoreline is a place of farewells. Throughout Michigan’s history water transportation has been the primary mode of long distance travel. As a result, the Great Lakes and the famous rivers that feed them have been places of many tearful farewells as loved ones departed on the water highways. I know, there were also many joyful welcomes. Nevertheless, I would like to take a little time to look at farewells.
Our modern age of travel and communication has softened the hard edge of saying good-bye. Today, a move of hundreds and even thousands of miles can be retraced in a matter of hours. Also, we can talk to our loved ones very easily via telephone and e-mail. In the recent past a move of hundreds of miles could mean that farewells were forever. When one traveled, especially on the water, many perils had to be faced. Often, it would be months before the family knew if a loved one had arrived safely. In places shipwrecks litter the floor of the Great Lakes. Also, sickness and death seem to accompany the voyages of the immigrants who traveled to America from the “Old Country”.
If we let our minds eye look down the shore of Lake Michigan one hundred fifty to two hundred years ago we would have seen a far different shore. There were no gigantic jetties built by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the primary harbors like we see in Holland, Grand Haven, Port Sheldon, etc. Instead, wooden wharves protruded into the waters of the lake wherever a stream or river made a cut through the sand dunes to make it easy to access the shoreline. In Holland, for example, the settlers first had to land on a sandbar on the shore. Then they transferred their possessions to another boat to make the journey across Macatawa Lake to get to the new settlement. It wasn’t until later that a channel was dug by hand to enable boats to travel directly to Holland. I recently read an old newspaper article about a wooden wharf that collapsed, dumping about thirty people, including women and children into the water. Everyone was rescued.
On the shore between Saugatuck and South Haven I have been working in an area called Pier Cove. There, a small stream cut through the forty feet clay cliffs to allow a road to reach the shore. A large wooden pier was built there to serve the settlers and the logging industry about two hundred years ago. A small community was started there. Today, the pier is gone. There are few signs of the community’s existence. Only the locals know the history.
During this early history, the arrival of settlers to the shores of Lake Michigan meant that farewells had been said to far away family and friends that were never seen again.
In later years, around the turn of the century when resorts were in their heyday, the many visitors would arrive as strangers during the summer months. After spending time together many friends would be made that might never be seen again. The same thing can be said of the cruise ships that were popular on the Great Lakes during this time.
We still have many farewells in our lives. We move. Friends and family move. If I think about it, I have many, many dear friends across the country and around the world that I have had the opportunity to know and love in years past. Though we keep in touch, I have not seen them for years. I miss them. I hope to see them again one day. I am sure you also miss your friends that live far away.
The most difficult “farewell” for us is death. Though our modern age has reduced the finality and pain of the farewells of travel, everyone faces the pain of the farewell of death. Sometimes death is so sudden that we cannot say goodbye. Other times, death comes slowly so that we have time to say farewell.
It is only as a Christian who believes in the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of Christ that we can have comfort to know that the farewells of death are only temporary. In Glory we will see our loved ones again. Do you have that hope?
Some ships sail at noonday,
Some at eventide.
Some in gentle mooring stay,
While at the quay reside.
Before the loosening of the rope,
That holds our ships fast.
To say a long farewell we hope,
And want our stay to last.
Some it seems so quickly sail,
Ere their stay has just begun.
Others who are old and frail,
Look longingly to the setting sun.
When my ship now moored to the pier,
Sails past the jetty to the open sea,
I’ll miss the loved one’s I hold dear,
Yet, long for the land awaiting me.
With the Captain at the helm,
Steadfast and sure, standing alone,
Though wind and wave would overwhelm,
Through every storm He’ll bring me home.
When despair shakes my longing soul,
And fear grabs from the deep,
He sets a course around the shoal,
In safety He my soul shall keep.
Someday filled with wind so sweet,
I’ll set my sails for the distant shore.
A part of a great and mighty fleet,
Sail home where trials will be no more.
July 30, 2002.