The chief person in “Sail Shining in White,” by Mark Helprin, is an old man of the sea—he is 82—who knows “[a]s if by some magic” that a ferocious storm is coming.

Saying yes to one’s own destruction (engineered by nature), as the old man does, is the subject. Aboard a boat, he knows he cannot survive the storm. There is no capriciousness here, however. The old man seeks an epiphany. He wishes “to see in nature some clue to the mystery to come [death] and the mysteries he would be leaving behind.” What can nature—or nature’s God—do for us? Helprin, I should mention, takes God seriously (“On the sea the only law was God’s law”).

“Sail” does not ignore the Wound in the human condition, but it is a defiantly positive short story. And there is nearly a politesse in its intelligent prose.