The Brevity of Life

 •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It was a June night in the North Atlantic, the season of the Midnight Sun. It was also the season when the warmth of summer begins to creep into the cold of the Arctic Circle and ice floes and glaciers break up into icebergs. Some of these are giants as high as 250 feet, and, generally, from 1,000 to 1,500 feet long. About seven-eighths of an iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water, and creates a serious hazard to all who sail the North Atlantic waters.
As an officer in the United States navy, I have been sailing the seas for nearly 15 years, often in he waters of the North Atlantic. On clear days, when visibility is good, the icebergs are not a great threat, as they can be seen from some distance away; but on this June night it was foggy, and visibility was very limited. Fog, as you probably know, is another hazard to the sea-faring man.
Our squadron of eight destroyers was steaming in formation; homeward bound; and all of the ships had lookouts up on the foc's'le (forecastle), to warn of icebergs or other hazards. The "International Rules of the Sea," under which all ships sail in time of peace, states that, "during fog, haze, rain or other conditions of reduced visibility, all vessels shall station lookouts on the lowest and forwardmost part of the ship which, in the judgment of the captain of the ship, is safe."
In making his determination as to the safety of a lookout station, the captain has to consider the wind velocity and its direction; the ship's heading in relation to the wind and sea; the state of the sea, etc. The captain alone is responsible for making this decision. On this night in June, the winds were westerly, as were the seas, and the ships were on a westerly course, riding comfortably, pitching up and down just enough to lull to sleep the lucky ones not on watch. It was 1959 hours (7:59 PM), when the signal to turn was sent out from the flagship to the squadron; and at 2000 hours (8:00 PM) the signal was executed, and all ships commenced their turn to the newly signaled course.
Earlier in the day, a patrol plane had spotted a large iceberg and had plotted its position and course. Then, upon return to its home base, the plane had sent the information out to all ships. We had just received this message telling us of this iceberg. Its position was directly ahead of us, in the path of our formation. To avoid a peril of collision, the squadron commander had signaled a turn.
At 2004 hours, the radio in the squadron commander's plotting room came alive and blared this message: "Man overboard, man overboard, starboard side! Am coming about to attempt pickup."
Two lookouts on the foc's'le of one of the destroyers were young men, one nineteen and the other twenty years of age. As their ship had altered course, it leaned over to one side, and the waves which the bow had been knifing through just seconds before, now struck the ship with a mighty force. Submerging the bow, the deluge of water washed the two young men over the side. We all realized that seconds were precious, for in the near freezing water human life could not exist very long. Immediately upon receiving the "Man overboard" report, the flag ship came about to assist, if possible, in recovery of the two sailor lads.
Visibility was limited in the fog; but when the ship came about the men on the bridge could see those in the water. The captain maneuvered his ship to get into position to pick up the men, but it was to no avail. Just four short minutes after the men had been swept overboard, they rose to the surface for the last time. Though the depths of the sea now claimed their bodies, we continued the search for hours, knowing full well the futility. As I stood scanning the cold, black waters through a pair of binoculars, the words of a song kept running through my mind:
"Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf;
Like the binding of a sheaf,
Be in time!"
These two young men could not have known just how brief their lives were to be when they went up to the foc's'le to relieve the watch. Just 23 minutes after leaving the safety, warmth, and comfort of their quarters, they had been ushered out of this world and into eternity. Were their souls saved? I do not know; but if not, they shall never have again the opportunity to confess Christ as their Savior.
Dear friends, perhaps just 23 minutes after you finish reading this, or even less, you may be ushered out of this world and into eternity. Where would you go? The Lord Jesus Christ is "not willing that any should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance." Oh, dear friend, "Be in time," and accept Him now.