Parable of Immortality
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says, “There she goes!”
Gone where? Gone from my sight . . . that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes!” there are other eyes watching her coming . . . and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . . “Here she comes!”
This poem, variously attributed to Henry Van Dyke and Luther Beecher (cousin of Henry Ward Beecher), has been oft-quoted and by some considered overused. But it has been meaningful to me, even before my days as board chair of our local Hospice – with which it is sometimes associated – in Kentucky, before we moved to Chicago. It is even more so now, on the occasion of my father’s passing. Whoever wrote it, it seems an apt, though imperfect analogy of how we experience the departure of a loved one.
There are, course, many other hymns and other poetic expressions, describing the experience – to say nothing of Scripture. In the words of hymnist Tillit S. Teddlie: “Loved ones are waiting and watching my coming” (Heaven Holds All To Me, 1932).
For more on the poem – sometimes titled “What Is Dying?” – see http://dallaslibrary2.org/blogs/bookedSolid/2014/04/i-recently-heard-the-poem-the-parable-of-immortality-in-searching-the-internet-i-found-it-attributed-to-henry-van-dyke-bishop-charles-henry-brent-and-even-victor-hugo-i/