Cast & Blast

How Beaufort Co.’s beauty helped a Lowcounty charter captain find hope, healing and peace

A full moon sits over the May River on a recent fall evening.
A full moon sits over the May River on a recent fall evening. Special to The Island Packet/ The Beaufort Gazette

Nature has always been my church.

I apologize to those of you who regard such a statement as blasphemy, but in my case it’s true. Maybe it will help if I tell you that I grew up in the Episcopal Church, went to church each and every Sunday and was an acolyte at the Church of the Cross in Bluffton. Throughout high school, I attended Episcopal boarding schools — one in Virginia and one in Charleston.

During that time, I learned a whole lot about the history of the Bible and religion in general. Furthermore, I have never regretted one second of this lengthy education. If it taught me one thing, it would be this: Do something nice for some person each and every day regardless of how small or insignificant that deed may be. I call these acts GPs, an acronym which stands for “God Points.” Maybe, just maybe, in the long run they will pay off.

So why am I spilling the beans on such a touchy subject? In a nutshell, it’s because this has been one of the toughest weeks I have had in quite some time. It has tested my spiritual center day in and day out.

It actually started months ago when my metal-laden spine started giving me unexplainable issues. I went to doctor after doctor after doctor and the diagnosis was the never the same. It wasn’t until last week that I saw yet another professional and got what may be the answer to my source of the pain I have endured day in and day out for all this time.

When I left that office and walked across the parking lot toward my car, I screamed vulgarities that could be heard miles away. How could so many doctors miss the root cause of all this pain and frustration?

I am a firm believer that things happen in “threes,” so when I learned that one of my best friend’s battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse; it was one more blow to my usual, fun loving self.

When you hear news like that, it is hard to find words that will comfort. When you do try to express yourself, it usually ends up as uncomfortable silence with awkward beginnings and an equally non-productive ending.

All I can think about in these situations is just how much I would like to have the ability to sap that person’s illness out of their body much like the Michael Clarke Duncan, the gifted inmate in the movie “The Green Mile,” did. But as is always the case, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

I am no stranger to catastrophic events.

When I was 14, my parents had gone to the Savannah Airport one night to pick up my sister Alice from college. On the way home, they ran into the rear end of a logging truck that had been left unattended in the middle of the highway. My folks were hospitalized for over two years and my sister was in a coma for four before she passed away.

At the end of my senior year of high school, I passed up a trip to Charlotte with my favorite teacher and many classmates. The Eastern Airlines plane they were on crashed outside the city, killing everyone on-board. I went to funeral after funeral for three straight weeks.

In 2005, my best friend, Warren Matthews, and I were offshore fishing when he gave me a strange look and died right then and there of a massive heart attack.

I lost both my parents to cancer plus my brother Tim to pancreatic cancer.

These are just a few of the things that have shaken my faith while at the same time, made it imperative that I find faith somewhere in my own little universe.

I said things happen in threes so I guess you are wondering what that number three might be.

Much to my surprise, it was exactly what I needed the most — faith.

It came in the form of “Fishing With Friends,” an annual event in which area fishing captains donate their boats and time to take children with special needs fishing.

I haven’t missed a “Fishing With Friends” since it began.

Each year since he was five, Riley Lewis, along with his dad, also named Riley, has been on my boat. Now in his mid-20’s, Riley let me know he wouldn’t be able to fish this year due to a recent surgery.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t on my A- game when I arrived to pick up my new fishing partner because of all that had happened recently.

But then I started watching the interaction between the special needs children and their parents and I felt blessed.

The parents are caregivers 24/7, 365 days a year. Yet they all had smiles.

After our fishing outing, we came ashore for a cookout and awards ceremony, I saw the same love and commitment from all the parents for children who would always need their care.

I’ll have to admit, it really shook me. It wasn’t until I was on my way home that everything came full circle.

I pulled off to the side of a road near MacKay Creek, turned off the engine and just looked around.

The marsh grass was never greener, the clouds never whiter and I just broke down and had a good cry followed by a much-needed sense of contentment.

Even with the sadness and anxiety that have dogged me off and on for most of my days, nature is always there to pull me through like no church has ever been able to do.