Sitting staring fixedly out to sea, the scene was something from a child’s picturebook. The water was a deep blue, and in a gentle breeze a yacht made its way across the corner of the Bay of Biscay; it sails, matching white triangles, worthy of inclusion in those primary school depictions of a day at the seaside. The lateness of season meant the beach was almost empty. The water was so placid that the waves broke no higher than the knees of a young couple who walked along the shoreline, oblivious that these same sands, not for the first time, had been witness to a pointless tragedy.
This morning’s paper carried news that the body of the nineteen year old, who had been swept away by the current last Wednesday, had been found by surfers a few miles to the south on Saturday evening. The newspaper reported that the body was still wearing the blue swimming trunks in which the young man had disappeared and that it had been taken to a funeral home in a nearby village. The inclusion of such detail seemed an unnecessarily macabre piece of journalism; perhaps such attention to minutiae is important in this exceedingly bureaucratic country.
Responsibility rested with no-one except the young man himself, who had defied all warnings and had swum in dangerous waters, but how many nineteen year olds go around obeying every rule? How many never break a speed limit? How many take no more than two or three units of alcohol on a night out? How many take note of every safety notice they read? Haven’t nineteen year olds always done daft and dangerous things or has the world changed?
Reflecting on it being Monday morning, I wondered about the young man’s three friends, those with whom he had travelled from north-eastern France for a camping holiday on Atlantic beaches with southern sunshine. Going back to their lives in a distant and different France, the cocktail of emotions must have been overwhelming; the questions and the regrets would have been persistently nagging, haunting even. Will there be a day in the years to come when they don’t revisit those moments on an August Wednesday afternoon?
The moment ended; it was time to get up and move on, nothing would be changed by staring into nothingness. There’s a sentence near the end of Revelation, that strange book at the end of the Bible, where it talks about a time when there will be no tears, or crying or pain anymore; perhaps Saint John would accept that would include there being no daft young kids being lost off of beaches.