Some time ago it was my privilege to travel to Scotland. I had always wanted to go there, since it was the land of my ancestral origins. Scotland was also the birthplace of my particular denomination. After attending a seminar in Edinburgh, I rented a car and drove – all by my lonesome – all around the coastlines of that “bonnie isle.”
One day on the Isle of Skye, while wandering around an old graveyard along the sea, I spotted five matching gravestones, lined up in a perfect row. Upon investigation, I discovered that the dates of death were all the same: October 2, 1942. The inscription describing each one was “Seaman, H.M.S. Curacao.” Obviously, they had all died aboard a ship that, I assumed, was sunk during World War II.
After I returned home I did a little research into the Curacao. As the story unfolded, I found that the Queen Mary cruise ship had been conscripted into service as a troop carrier. It was painted military gray and was nicknamed “The Gray Ghost.” Hitler wanted the Gray Ghost sunk, and offered a bounty of $250,000 to any captain who could sink her. The H.M.S. Curacao served as an escort ship, guiding the Gray Ghost through the North Atlantic seas.
On that fateful day of October 2, 1942, the Gray Ghost, following a defensive zipzag course, accidentally rammed the Curacao and only 101 of the 432 crewmen survived. The graves I happened upon along the coast of Scotland marked the burials of five of them.
The most memorable part of this chance discovery, however, came when I realized that only three of the graves had names. The other two were, I assumed, sailors whose identity had remained undiscovered – the “graves of the unknown sailors.” But then I had swept the weeds away from the base of the stones and found three words inscribed on those two markers: “Known to God.”
Known to God. These were not, as it turned out, the graves of unknown sailors. We may not know who is buried in that windswept graveyard, but God does. Remember that, as the world moves on and becomes forgetful. Remember it when you hurt, and you wonder if God knows your quiet, private pain. It’s a good message for the holidays with all their joy and pain. You are known to God, and God cares.
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