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Commentary: Reflecting on life, grief and enduring love

March 28, 2014|By Thomas Eastmond

It's a wild morning, pouring rain. At high tide the southwest swell is rolling under the Newport Pier and washing through the dory market, carving out big chunks of beach with each wave.

Someone suggests moving the paddle-out to the bay. We confer — there's no time. The memorial service starts at 11. Storm or not, we're going. Six of us are former Newport lifeguards. If the side current washes us all the way to the river jetties, as looks entirely possible, maybe some of the 100 or so friends watching from shore can ferry us back.

The biblical story of Job — the classic study of unexplainable suffering — has a happy ending. After Job endures losing his wealth, his children and his health without losing his faith, God gives him twice as much as he had before.

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Not all stories end that way.

Years ago, a good man in our church lost his beloved wife to cancer. He endured his grief, and was eventually blessed to marry his best friend — one of those authentic, outgoing, love-everybody people who always seemed to have a smile.

They'd surf almost every summer Friday at San Onofre and loved Disneyland. They led a young, single adult congregation at church and had beautiful, accomplished children — the full, life-is-good package. She came down with the flu early this year, was hospitalized and died in February, much too young.

It's as if Job, after the enemy lost his bet, were dealt back in for another hand. Double or nothing.

Others in our group are closer friends of the family. But for reasons I still don't quite comprehend, this passing weighs on me. The last time I felt this way was after another death eight years back — a relative's child, also sudden. Is it my own faith feeling less ironclad, more "faintly trust the larger hope"? Maybe.

"Show up and shut up," they say when you don't know what to say to another's grief. So here we are.

We paddle out, each picking our own lines through the break. Some respectable beatings are taken on the way, but the current isn't as strong outside as it looked from the beach. We gather into something like a circle and grasp hands. The chop and the current keep twisting us into a shape like a kidney bean; more poetic observers on the pier later say it looks like a heart. The rain slackens.

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