It is 6 AM. The house is dark and quiet. I am soaking in the sweet, brief solitude. Soon the din and stir of the crowd will rule the house.
A cold front came in yesterday and cooled down our Texas autumn heat wave. The red oak in my backyard still isn’t red. The cool weather is a lovely touch for a Thanksgiving Day, though. I can finally wear my winter robe this morning.
I have been awake since 4 AM. I don’t know why–maybe a buzzing brain and an eager heart for the day.
I am thinking about a couple of things this morning. One is the Mayflower and the ships that brought the Pilgrims and Puritans to the New World. I’m pondering life and conditions on those ships in the 1600s. The courage that rose in their souls to venture out is admirable. Honestly, it is a wonder that most survived that journey.
As a missionary, I have tasted a little of the excitement, forlorn, and fear that accompany life-changing adventures. The thing that is different is that I always knew that we could return home at any moment. That was a huge safety net for our family, for me.
Those separatists from England didn’t think of safety nets or returning to the motherland. The journey homeward would be just as treacherous. Setting their faces like flint, they embraced the hardship and the unknown for the joy of something better just over the horizon. They entrusted the well-being of their lives, families, and future to the frailty of a wooden vessel and the navigational skills of the 1600s upon an uncertain ocean.
Can you imagine the smells of salt air, stench of dirty clothing and bodies, and sewage? Imagine toggling between hope and regret as the waves pounded them relentlessly for days on end? Imagine being pregnant upon those rolling waves? Imagine the food rations and the dwindling water supply? Imagine the unknown factors of a new and hostile land? Imagine primitively patching leak after leak, praying they would hold? Imagine surrendering their fears of sickness and death to an unseen God instead of driving it deep into their bellies.
When they sailed in 1620, fierce Atlantic storms battered the ship. They floated aimlessly for days like a piece of driftwood. The passengers lived in extremely overcrowded conditions, as the seawater soaked their bedding and clothes for weeks on end.
Here is an excerpt from William Bradford’s diary about the Mayflower voyage:
….and met with many fierce storms, with which the ship was shroudly shaken, and her upper works made very leaky; one of the main beams in the mid ships was bowed and cracked, which put them in some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voage. In sundry of these storms, the winds were so fierce, and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to hull, for divers days together.
A tumultuous ocean wave swept one young man, John Howland, overboard. Amazingly he was rescued. Here is Bradford’s account:
”in a mighty storme, a lustie yonge man (called John Howland)coming upon some occasion above the grattings, was, with a seele of the shipe throwne in the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hould of the top-saile halliards, which hunge over board, and rane out at length; yet he held his hould (though he was sundrie fathomes under water) till he was hald up by the same rope to the brime of the water, and then with a boat hooke and other means got into the shipe againe, and his life saved; and though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after, and became a profitable member both in church and commone wealthe”
Interesting to note, both President Bushes are descendants of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley.
On November 9, 1620, the Mayflower almost shipwrecked on the sandy beaches of Cape Cod. They sailed around to what is Provincetown, Massachessetts, and anchored two days later. They sent our expeditions to survey the land over the next month. They were 102 passengers and about 25 crew members and sailed almost 3,000 miles total in 66 days. One seaman died on the journey. In six months after landing 52 passengers died in an epidemic.
I wrote this poem the first time I visited Plymouth Rock.
I tasted the salt
sea at Plymouth and
smelled liberty’s sweet
fresh air. Rolling waves
lapped the shore.
With eyes closed, I imagined the pilgrim’s
faint images that moved weary in the rocking, creaking
Mayflower. Rolling hills and towering pines–
their first glimpse of land–
my heart swelled with theirs.
I felt the fire that
torched their hearts
and moved them to free spaces.
Proud to be a descendant,
I hollowed the 1620 rock
called Plymouth, feeble symbol of
new beginnings that grew
sweet and wide and deep.
My reverent heart
stood erect at their first grave,
bittersweet and wide and deep,
fifty-two dead and buried,
that first year.
In a new millennium in November, we remember their
journey, and we hold Election Day.
Some of us yawn and roll over in
our comfortable beds, pulling up our Ralph Lauren
sheets–magnifying our luxury–while the
bells of freedom ring and ring and ring
across the land that many only realized
in their dreams.
Well, I am off to make dressing and sweet potato casserole. Later, I wonder if I can draw the girls away from football to a Jane Austin movie… maybe…