Just last week, when I was sitting in my favourite chair with the cat in my lap and a whisky in my hand, working out some distressing financial problems that eventually will not matter, I recalled something that I had first realised on a ship long ago. That, like human life, the sea ebbs and surges relentlessly, and that all one can do- all one should do- is to let the waves wash over you. Just ride them while you still can.
That the sea teaches you many things is a trite understatement. In reality, those of us who have sailed find it has transformed our very lives. It does not really matter that some of us choose to forget what we have learnt at sea once we step ashore- many years later, if we are lucky. Our existence has been changed completely anyway, whether we remember the lessons of the metamorphosis or not.
For me, the beauty used to lie in the fact that I was often not even aware of what the sea had taught me. The wonder used to be that, just when I thought, somewhat arrogantly, that I had learnt everything, the lady would teach me something new. She still does, even a few years after I have hung up my sea boots. She still teaches me things. Not just about me, but about life itself.
For many years, I used to think that the qualities that a life on the water promoted were obvious. After all, everybody knows that sailing teaches you, amongst many other lessons, the values of integrity, self-reliance, resilience, mental and physical toughness, fortitude, patience, discipline, quick-thinking, tolerance, independence and responsibility. Good lessons to learn, no doubt, even if a trifle mundane.
The greater, magical power of the sea was revealed to me later, with the gleaned knowledge that the ocean mirrored life itself in all its serenity and brutality. Coinciding with the knowledge- realised anew- that we have all come from the sea and perhaps that is the reason why some of us want to return to it, my experience became almost mystical. It transcended learning, because many of my questions did not have any answers. But that did not matter; no answers were needed. The experience was everything.
The young man who went out to sea used to seek adventure and escape from the alternative- the treadmill of a soul-sucking office job. Alas, no longer, but that does not really matter. The reasons for making the choice are irrelevant to the outcome. In this calling, they will find adventure and escape even if they are not actively seeking it. They will discover the answers without asking the questions. And for those- very few, today- that still actively seek the maverick existence without dollar signs in their eyes, everything they find will be a bonus. It will be more than that, actually, because the experience will transform them wondrously. At the end of it all, they will find, as Van Morrison sang, their souls and spirits flying into the mystic..