Tragedy in Whitby

I spent a few days in Whitby this month. It is an even prettier town than imagined: a brooding, ruined abbey on a cliff overlooking the town; narrow streets lined with chocolatiers, jewellers specialising in jet, and quite possibly the best chippies in England. Our early morning stroll witnessed the return of some fisherfolk on their boats, inspecting their catch and smoking their fags. The history is also great; as well as the aforementioned abbey ruins, there is a squat Norman church with peculiar Georgian interior.

A statue of the renowned Captain Cook of Australian fame gazes out over the harbour; furthermore, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, spent time here researching the Romanian nobleman upon whom his character is based, and courteously including the seaside town in his gothic tale. Local shopkeepers, it must be said, are not shy when it comes to capitalising on the connection.

The place’s natural history is impressive, too. Colourful pebbles are scattered by the waves upon the sandy beaches while imposing cliffs keep watch over the tide’s invasive tendencies. We walked part of the Cleveland Way, from which we saw seals, cormorants and fat-looking ponies. A former pupil of mine I called on, too. He is busily converting an old boat into a dwelling, honing skills that his recently completed Oxbridge curriculum did not cover. Apart from the busloads of tourists (in whose company I must, on this occasion, confess to keeping), and its relative remoteness by rail (have you tried getting there by train?!) it is the perfect place to live. And to die. Someone, during those days I was visiting, rendered it the perfect place to die.

Among the happy families and day-trippers, a police drone was hovering. A section of one of the piers was closed by police tape. Wearers of hi-viz jackets could be observed milling around beneath the abbey’s hill. Emergency vehicles whose flashing blue lights had been switched off were parked along the road. To most, it mattered not. Ice-creams were bought, the famous 199 steps were climbed with varying degrees of vitality, and the evening’s ghost tours were filling up nicely. And yet someone had died. He wasn’t a relative of ours, nor a friend. Had he been careless, the victim of slipped footing or a bracing wind? Was he fallen foul of the ubiquitous Count, yet another woe to add to that catalogue of inconvenience caused by the Eastern European migrant?

Whatever his identity, whatever the tragic circumstance, a human soul entered eternity to give account of itself to God. An even greater tragedy than this shortened life might be its reception into the halls of judgement. Christ Jesus paid with His blood for sinners’ redemption, purchasing for them a refuge from divine wrath. The Father’s throne, white and dreadful, need not have filled the poor man’s heart with awful horror if he trusted in Jesus’ atoning work. If he failed to accept that offer, carelessly dismissing it like so many of his countrymen, his eternal judgement is worse than his earthly travail. Let us us hope that he cried out to the living God in those final moments, before the rocks and waves overpowered him and extinguished his breath.

“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”Hebrews 9:27