Cap’n Bob wandered over to us. There we sat, my grandson and I, waves lapping against the concrete pier, shrimp boats rocking on the rising tide and dolphins leaping from the harbor. He was an old net maker, a casual acquaintance, roughened by years on the ocean. His life had been a difficult one; on the docks since he was nine, out of school and off to the Gulf on a shrimp boat by sixteen.
His mother had given him to her parents when he was four, unable to care for him and the other children. His grandparents had loved him, but he never had time to play. Gutting fish, getting them ready for market, up early to meet the night’s catch before school — this was his life. As he got older, even the nights were spent fishing, dragging huge nets through 70 fathoms in hopes of a good morning’s sale, alcohol filling the void that gnawed at him for years.
Off to the Navy, and then to country after country: the Guianas, both French and British, Venezuela, the Amazon Basin, port after port down South America and through the Islands back to Central America. Things done that earned a living but danced on the edge, no questions asked, take a boat from here to there.
He settled in Honduras in 1964, where he farmed, married, and became a father. But life was not easy and the sea called him. Soon he and his wife parted ways and he was gone again. Later he found another place, married another woman, raised another family. This time there were five children, not to mention the larger extended family. Bananas, mandioca, rice, sugar cane, coconuts and pigs helped them as they eked out a meager living.
Life in Honduras was hard, but it was better than Florida, in some ways. When a pig was slaughtered it was shared with everyone. People cared for each other, looked out for each other. And wasn’t that how life was supposed to be? He thought about the first church, two thousand years ago – the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of Acts. He knew there had to be a better way, but didn’t know how or where to find it.
Now back in Florida, he climbs the steps to our porch and says, “I’ve looked and looked and looked, but I didn’t know what I was looking for. Now I think I see it." Months and weeks passed. Then as we sat one evening around a blazing fire, he said, “I feel like the puzzle is coming together. First, the pieces were scattered here and there, all over the deck; now they’re slowly coming together. The last pieces are coming together!”
A few weeks later there came days of questioning and seeking. How can I find new life? And what does that mean? At home alone one night Bob read the story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian and the next morning he made his wishes very clear. “Baptism is what I want. Baptism, so that my sins can be forgiven and I can find peace.”
We sat in a circle looking out on the bay and he repeated his wish. We read the story about Philip and his heart burst. “How did you know that I read that story last night? How? This must be the right time.” We agreed that it was, and walked along bayside until we found a place that was just right. Right there, he made his confession and declared his belief in a new life. We waded out into the surf and he was baptized, his sins washed away. A new, radiant joy was given to him. The pieces had finally come together.