The Church of the Sea | JIM FURLONG

There was no Sunday Mass to attend this month. There hasn’t been Mass for many months now. It is a sign of the troubled times. I miss that. Church in all its forms and with its many faults still provides structure and an opportunity for reflection. It is good for the soul. It is also a chance to see people you know with a belief structure like your own. Some call it fellowship in modern churches but I always knew it as just seeing people.

The street where I was raised was called Lazy Bank once. It is in the west end of St. John’s and the name derived from the fact that after Mass on Sunday the men of the parish would gather by the Lazy Bank river for a chat and a smoke. That river is still there but it is underground. If you put your ear to the sidewalk you can still hear it. ‘

On a rainy Sunday morning this year, though, I took myself to a little used stretch of beach in Conception Bay. It was quiet in a way that is almost beyond understanding. If you have done this you will know exactly what I am talking about. It wasn’t that there was NO sound. It was simply different. There wasn’t a breath of air; no wind at all.

There was just a gentle whisper from the Atlantic. I got out of the car and stood by the water’s edge, as we used to call it, in what was a light rain. I listened and “heard” what was the complete and total absence of human sound that morning. There was nothing save the gentle sound of a light rain and the ocean. The water in Conception Bay was almost as glass and so clear you could see the kelp moving gently under it for several yards offshore. There were no cars to be heard on an early Sunday morning. There was no machinery digging holes or the sounds of industry moving society forward. Nobody was walking their dog or mowing their lawn. Occasional gulls wheeled high in the sky and broke the silence of the new day.

There was one other sound that rang through the fog and rang deep into the soul. Somewhere off in the distance was the distinct rumble of a faraway foghorn. Now those who work on or live around the Atlantic will tell you that fog does strange things with sounds. Things that are far sound near. Things that are near can sound far away. If I were guessing I would say the foghorn that morning was somewhere beyond Bell Island; perhaps as far away as the other side of Conception Bay; but I’ll never know. After the horn finished that long and wavering low note familiar to us all came what must be one of the loneliest sounds in the world. It was the echo of the horn off distant cliffs and headlands in a place that I couldn’t see. It was in Newfoundland on a foggy day made more beautiful by that odd occurrence which was the complete absence of wind.

Somewhere in the past I would bet that poet E.J. Pratt knew that sound. Gerry Squires knew it too. So did a lot of people who express Newfoundland in a better way than I ever could. In the sound there was beauty and quiet and a connection that linked present and past. There was achievement and there was loss and there was perseverance. It was all in the echo of a foghorn.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]