Running and gunning with dad on Lake Martin. I was a young boy in central Alabama learning the ropes. I’m not really old enough to have a 'remember when' story but back then a GPS was an even pricier investment than it is now, with less capability and usually handheld. Therefore we didn't have one. But my dad knew Lake Martin pretty well, a little better than the back of his hand, so it didn't really matter.
I would lie in the bottom of the boat as it skimmed across the clear deep waters. We'd run from one end of the lake to the other, then hopscotch back from island to pocket to creek to island. I was completely lost but he knew where we were and where we were headed. As I grew up I got up from the bottom of the boat and became co-captain in the seat beside him. Learning each turn, island and creek by look instead of name.
He’d let me drive every now and then. I’d run along about half throttle until I was just shy of an unmarked underwater island or about to miss a turn and he'd lean over and point the right path out to me. I'd adjust. He'd say head towards that opening or those islands. Aim for those houses up on that ridge and then go behind the island just before you get to the bank.
I would have had a hard time in my younger days finding that last turn the other day. I almost missed it anyway. But I'll not likely mistake it again. The pristine houses that were perched with such precision on the edge of the river are no more. Just scattered debris and bare ground.
Last Saturday was the first time I was on the lake since the bout of deadly tornadoes struck the state in late April. I had been to Tuscaloosa and seen the devastation first hand offering my assistance and a few supplies for what it was worth. But I know just a handful of people in Tuscaloosa and had only been through it once before. Not to down play the unbelievable tragedy there but what I saw on Lake Martin just hit a little closer to home so to speak.
Houses that used to be land marks, used get from the ramp to my chosen fishing hole of the day. Houses I’d pass on the way to fond memories. I started thinking about the heartbreak that must be felt by the victims on Lake Martin and those who had lost everything in Tuscaloosa and across the southeast.
I saw a sign coarsely painted in orange spray paint on a set of green doors half on the hinges. Practically all that was left of this house used as a graffiti canvas. A simple statement and a call to action. “Our Sunset will not change. Honk if you love Lake Martin.” It reminded me of the resolve I saw in the faces of survivors in Tuscaloosa who were doing all they could to help their neighbors, friends, and complete strangers.
It reminded me of America. Of the towers falling. Of Katrina. Of trials and tribulation talked about in the book of James. All the things that have passed and are still to come, good and bad. Of a country with faith, hope and love at its foundation. Mortared together with prayer.
It reminded me of the good times when I used to run around on Lake Martin with my dad and of those fathers and sons that lost their fishing companion in the storms. Of the mothers without babies and babies without mothers. Families without homes. All the turmoil that is going on in the lives of so many right now. And how divine the line is between the people inside tragedy and the people outside looking in. The storm could have been 10 miles further south and would have ripped through my home. But it wasn’t. And it didn’t.
Now the storm is in Missouri, and the storm still rages in Tuscaloosa. And on Lake Martin. In Louisiana with the flood victims. And in the heart of millions facing storms of all types right now. These storms show us how quickly life can change completely. Treasure every fishing trip. Help those that have lost. Help those that are lost. Don’t try to understand why you’re on either side of the divine line. Just cross it and lend a hand if you can. Honk if you love Lake Martin. And whatever happens never let the sunset change.