Passion Week on Hamburger Reef

Dateline: Hamburger Reef, a stone’s throw off the pier at Georgetown, Grand Cayman. January, 2006.

No matter how fast I swam, they stayed just ahead of me. The school of blue tang moved in unison- flashing right, left, then darting over the rocks and out of sight. I struggled to keep up, only to lose them as they vanished into the void. The dark blue wall of the deep always makes me nervous- that’s where the big beasties live- so I gave up the chase and snorkeled back toward the reef. In the relative safety of the shallows I reveled in the colors of the corals and their ever-shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow. My heart beat simply in the bliss of the moment, until I came upon a silvery piece of junk wedged between two rocks.

A supermarket shopping cart. A shopping cart!

Finding man-made trash in this magical world jarred the bliss out of me. Dumbfounded, angry, and disgusted, I wondered how a shopping cart landed in the bay. I’ve seen reefs abused while snorkeling in poorer countries, but Grand Cayman? This nexus of Caribbean offshore banking is home to well-heeled visitors and wealthy second-home owners. What kind of vile offender would despoil the coral, the fragile and sacred home of the elusive blue tang?

Later I learned the vile offender was Hurricane Ivan. On September 12, 2004, a little over a year before my swim, this massive category-five yawned as he approached Grand Cayman and swallowed the island whole. Most roofs shredded in winds close to 200 mph. Twelve inches of rain joined forces with a ten-foot wall of seawater to cover this narrow spit of land, almost reclaiming it for the sea. Ivan finally blew off to the northwest, sucking the ocean off the island behind him and depositing a trail of debris across the bay, not limited to Food Mart’s errant cart.

Floating over the flotsam I chose to ignore the trash and marvel instead at God’s handiwork, snorkeling ’til my strength gave out. Dripping and salty, I clambered over the rocks and right up to Church Street, Georgetown’s main drag. From the wharf the view of the harbor is breathtaking. Cruise ships pull in and anchor each day, discharging their day-trippers to hit the beaches as well as the shops. Sixteen months after Ivan, the roofs closest to the port had been replaced, the shops repaired, and visitors were greeted by the Disney-esque downtown with a view of the sparkling sea. Only the locals knew of the devastation that remained.

Five years and four thousand miles away, this Passion Week calls me to examine the view from the harbor of my heart- both the sparkling surface of the sea as well as the depths, where storms deposit the occasional trash. Jesus has been the master repairman in my harbor for a few years now. He’s replaced my shredded roof and buffed out the stains on my heart, and I can even snorkel safely in the shallows most of the time. But every once in a while I come upon a shopping cart- twisted from the tempest, a blight on the handiwork of God. It jars the bliss right out of me. Dumbfounded, angry, and disgusted, I wonder: How did this trash come to land in my bay, and who can make it right? Alone, I can’t haul it from the water or transform it into something it’s not; nor do I want to leave it the way it is. Once again I call on the Master Repairman, who is also the Maker of the reef.

The Lord of creation knew trash would someday fall on the ocean floor, and He designed coral to be a living organism that heals. It builds its home on shipwrecks and downed planes and all manner of man-made disaster. In His time, and with His help, the broken always becomes the beautiful. Fish find a home amidst the colors of the corals and thrive in the ever-shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow. Together, Jesus and I look at the trash in my harbor, and by His suggestion, we leave it as it is. Its presence will warn me to guard my heart when the tempests blow by, and someday its structure will be home for the beautiful blue tang. Only the locals and the Lord of creation will know of the devastation that was, but hopefully many will see the healing that is to come. God can make all things beautiful in His time, including my heart.

©2011, Rachel Ophoff, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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