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Home Opinion Appalachian Notebook: An ICU experience — loss, life and a boat

Appalachian Notebook: An ICU experience — loss, life and a boat

“We need a boat.”

This was the premise of extended discussion at our house as spring approached and Karen, my wife, reminded me that she is an angling gal. An angling gal without a fishing boat is a bank-sitter, someone vulnerable to mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, poison ivy, slithering snakes and other critters that go bump in the daylight.

Nothing wrong with bank fishing, in my humble opinion, but why sit on the ground when you can cast and sunbathe from the comfort of a padded boat seat?

“We need a boat,” she said as April zephyrs kissed the tender growth of blooming redbuds and blue skies reflected in the waters of Normandy Lake.

Needing a boat is something of a misnomer. If you don’t intend to earn a living from said boat, you really don’t need one. You might “want” a boat, but after having owned one you learn from hard experience how expensive it is. It’s much cheaper to hire someone with a boat to take you out on the water or rent one by the hour.

“We need a boat.”

OK, we started looking for a gently used 14-ft. fishing boat—with padded seats for a certain senior citizen’s aging rump—at a reasonable cost (because I feared how much money would be needed for maintain the watercraft, outboard motor and trailer). A classified ad led us to just the type of boat we had in mind, perfect for an angling gal and her old curmudgeon husband to launch on glorious spring and summer days, whether or not the fish were biting.

God works in mysterious ways, however. This column is not as much about the acquisition of a fishing boat as the existence of a Creator and His Son, the eternal beings that some folks claim don’t exist. The old saying is that even atheists believe when they’re couched in foxholes while shells explode around them.

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I maintain that it doesn’t take combat or dramatic life-changing episodes for people to acknowledge there’s no such thing as coincidence, that their life paths are ordained and a Higher Power controls the universe and reigns here and in the afterlife.

The classified ad led Karen and I to a house that overlooked the lake, an old fisherman (he turned 76 on the day I bought the boat) who’d survived an illness that should have claimed him and his wife, a woman who’d done great kindness to me and my family six years ago.

I had texted with her several times, getting information for registering the boat in my name. The name just did not click in my memory until the Saturday morning I dropped by to see her husband. He welcomed me in the living room where the TV was tuned to a children’s cartoon. In fact, a curly-haired granddaughter was there.

It was clear her grandfather doted on her. He cuddled her as we talked: him about his series of surgeries and recuperation, his wife’s dedication (she was a critical care nurse) and the blessing of recovery. He could no longer launch and operate the fishing boat, but wanted it to have a good home.

I told him about my life, the loss of my first wife in 2013 after a serious illness and the kindness of strangers at the local hospital’s intensive care unit, where she received excellent care in her final days.

From the hallway, I heard a sob. At that moment, I made the connection and she did, too. His wife was the ICU nurse who’d grown to love my always cheerful wife and had helped my sons and I through the most difficult period in our lives: Waiting and watching while our wife and mother went to Jesus.

She had not greeted me because I caught her in a house coat, with no makeup, and she didn’t recognize my name. But we met in the middle of the room to hold each other and cry. I felt a piece of something—unfinished business, an obligation, maybe simply a chapter finally closing—click into place.

What she wished and prayed for, our family surviving the ordeal, had come true. Our lives continued. She was blessed to have her husband after an illness similar to my wife’s but with a different outcome. Still, it was no less agonizing and stressful.

This meeting, a reunion of sorts, wasn’t a coincidence caused by a fishing boat for sale. I repeat: there is no such thing as coincidence or fate. A loving God brought us together so four people could see He has a plan and path for each of us, threads weaved to intersect with other lives in a myriad of patterns to accomplish His Will, and His Son to intercede for us when things come unraveled.

So, we now have a boat. It is fitting. My first wife also loved to fish.

The circle closes and the cycle begins anew—and not by chance. For an old man who sometimes thinks he has seen enough to have figured things out, events prove that our best and most noble efforts pale when compared to the Spirit that created all things, set rules for our physical universe and promised us eternity.

Someone infinitely larger and more powerful holds us in His Hands. His Son is our salvation. I am content with this and pray you are, too.

ν Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor. He resides in Tennessee.

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Steve Oden
Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama. His column, "Appalachian Notebook," appears in the Independent Herald bi-weekly.
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