As I wrote in a previous post, my son Adam is in the US Coast Guard and is stationed at Point Allerton, a small boat station in Hull, Massachusetts just south of Boston. It is a noted Coast Guard Station because it is the oldest and it is the oldest because it was the first - founded by an extraordinary man named Joshua James - the father of the US Coast Guard.
He established himself as a "Lifesaving Station Keeper", at age 62: a given age, when time adjusted to the 19th century, would be well past retirement today. He formed a crew of 7 and then set about saving over 1,000 people in sea rescues: no one had done that before. The historical record on him is sketchy and I relied on internet sources and can only hope they are accurate, but there is enough about him from multiple sources to ascertain certain basic facts about his life:
-He lived from 1826 to 1902, 75 years. He was born in Hull, Massachusetts, 9th of 12 children.
-He was a Lutheran who, like his father, read the Bible every day and was a Sunday school teacher.
-He participated in his first sea rescue at age 15 and became an accomplished sailor in the waters around Hull and the islands of Boston.
-He entered the maritime shipping business and became successful through gumption and frugality.
- He once owned 25 schooners and contracted with the City of Boston to provide most of the cobblestones for its downtown streets.
He gave each of his sons a schooner when they turned 25 and also had them participate in rescues.
-He was humble. On his application for the Hull station, he merely wrote, "fisherman" next to his name.
-He died at 75 years, after completing a life boat drill.
-He died poor. A collection had to be made for his family.
As an aside, I have mixed feelings about those cobblestones. Like many older cities, Boston maintained those type of streets well into the 1950s. On our infrequent family jaunts into Boston when I was under 10, I remember negotiating the cobblestone crosswalks with difficulty. The stones provided a certain rough consistency for transport, but not comfort. These were not the smooth pavers on display at Home Depot, but thousands of buried stones angled and rounded in the expanse between buildings, each stone with its own unique rounding. Back then, the thoughts of a small boy did not carry any concern for adult women in high heels trying to maintain a dignified gait through those same crosswalks, but I wince when I think of it now.
I'm not much on facial analysis, but when I look at his picture, I see resolution. He looks focused in the picture, full of determination. I think trying to explain the concept of "downtime" to him would be a long conversation. I'll bet he could stare down a block of New Hampshire granite. Some people are like that.
But why would a successful businessman stop what he was doing and endeavor on a new path for little or no recompense?
The answer is said to be a family tragedy that occurred when he was 11 years old. His mother and young sister were returning from Boston on a schooner and a sudden squall hit while they were approaching the Hull Cut, 1/2 mile from safe harbor. The boat went down and them with it and the internet sources indicate he witnessed the event.
Or was it ego? Did he just want to go nine rounds against mother nature without meeting the canvas?
This is just speculation, but my observation is that ego centered actions are short-lived and Joshua James was not a road flare, but a long burning candle. The rescue numbers bear that out. I'm sure some rescues were easy, like a nautical beer run over a light chop, but most, by definition, were not. Ships falter in bad weather. An example is the Hurricane of 1888. He and his crew put oars down during the storm to rescue an imperiled crew. They rowed for almost an hour, then hit rocks, turned around, rowed back, got another lifeboat, rowed back out, saved four out of seven sailors, then rowed back to safety - against the worst sea the hurricane could present. In 36 hours, they rescued 29 people off 6 wrecks...without sleep.
We may not know his motivations, but we know his actions and those actions open up his window and when we look in, again, I don't think we see ego but something else. When catastrophe happens in our lives it affects us, it molds us. He could take his tragic events of his mother's death and fold his emotions into themselves; turn inward; call it "God's will" and get on with his business. Or take those events to a certain purpose. Perhaps James found that in life, the answer to his petitions in prayer were not the petitions themselves, but the answer was God. Perhaps by trying unselfishly to alleviate the burdens of others that life sometimes provides, he and his crew turned their own lives into a prayer - a form of worship.
I believe when we end this life we start another with God. Perhaps to get there some will take a non-stop flight, others will connect with varying layover times, but we'll get there. Or perhaps our means of transport will be in another form....a crew of 7, Joshua James at the tiller. You never know.
July 30th every year is designated "Joshua James Day" with members of the Point Allerton Station presenting the colors at his grave on a hill overlooking the harbor; that night 1,000 flares necklace the bay in celebration and memoria. His legacy labors in obscurity - I grew up in the area and never heard of him so I hope this posting helps. Our son Adam is last on the right in the ceremony below.
One thousand candles...One thousand lives.