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"The Reason to Be at Sea"

South China Sea - January 30, 2008

sunny 84 °F

This afternoon, I was meditating outside on one of the upper decks. I’ve continued with the qigong style of meditation, which is very interesting. I’m going to try to do at least an hour a day, though that sounds daunting, even for me. I’ve also been reading The Alchemist, which Eric forced upon me against my will. The two are working in conjunction quite nicely. In addition, I’ve decided that to try to get outside for at least 15 minutes per day while we’re at sea.

It might seem surprising that I would have to mandate outdoor time for myself, but we’re so busy, all of the time, that it’s quite possible to do what you’re doing and fail to schedule time to go out. The cabins are pretty stuffy, and living inside of the ship is like being in a high rise whose windows don’t open or in an airplane. I thought I was the only one, so I was rather surprised when, immediately after meditating, the Captain approached me as I leaned against the rail.

He and I have never spoken to one another, so I was a little bit thrilled quite frankly. He asked if I’m enjoying the voyage, and I replied that I am, though I am surprised that it took me all this time to realize that I should come out on the deck daily. He smiled and answered in his Greek English, “This is very strange voyage. Nobody comes on the [side] deck to look at the water. This is the reason to be at sea.” He lit a cigarette and asked me where I’m from. I told him, and I told him that my parents are from Africa. He has been to both Tanzania and South Africa – Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, and another place, but never Jo’burg. I said, “You’re Greek, right?” He nodded. I told him that I have a very good Greek friend but that despite all her attempts to teach me some of the language, all I can remember is “Chronia polla,” which means something like “Live long” or “Have a long life” or something like that. He laughed a bit weakly – as if not to hurt my feelings too much – and said, “That is a wish.” I told him that I hope to go to Athens after the voyage, and I asked what he will do after the voyage. Does he go back to Greece. He explained that he lives in the U.S. now. Originally in Florida but now Georgia, adding, “I cannot stand the weather there. It is oppressive.” I wanted to ask if he doesn’t find the culture oppressive there, too, but I refrained. Instead, I asked him if he will move again, and he said that he goes back and forth. When he gets sick of Greece he goes to Georgia; when he gets sick of Georgia, he goes back to Greece. He said, “You know, it’s a little bit crazy. Back and forth, travelling around with no home.” I said, “But that’s your life right? The life of a sailing man.” At that, his face darkened a bit and crushed the remaining portion of his cigarette. “Yes, that is right,” then he turned and walked away.

I remembered a few things in that moment. One is that he had once said during an address to the community that the life of a sailor is very lonely, especially after you become Captain because you have no peers on board – only subordinates and passengers. Second, I remembered a passage from The Alchemist:

“Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he made the first decision.”

Recalling those words, I wondered how and when the Captain decided to become a seafarer and how he ended up in Georgia. I wondered if he enjoys it or if it’s become routine. I wondered what would or will eventually make him stop. I wondered if he’s ever been to places that he never expected to see. I wondered if that will happen to me or even if it’s happening now.

Did I seek this opportunity? I applied for the job and I’ve always wanted to see the world – I’m a Sagittarius after all. Furthermore, I was born on a Thursday: “Thursday’s child has far to go.” I asked one of the professors today what that means? Does it mean I’m remedial? He said, it means Thursday’s children love to travel. Is it a coincidence or am I merely lucky, then?

According to a character in The Alchemist, “luck’ and ‘coincidence’ are “the words that the universal language is written in.” He explains further: “Everything in life is an omen. There is a universal language, understood by everybody, but already forgotten.”

When Eric and I met at Esalen two years ago, neither one of us would have known that he’d end up living in China and that I would sail on a vessel headed there. Even when those plans were made, neither of us envisioned he would travel on the ship for a short spell. Neither of us thought we’d travel through Thailand together. When I met Eric, I already knew Vicky, though I could never have imagined meeting a Vicky the Greek. It never occurred to me that I would speak the two words of Greek that I know to anybody but Vicky and certainly not while standing on the deck of an ocean liner – a deck where I’d just been reading a fable written by a Brazillian about a Spanish shepard who decides to follow his dream though it takes him far from home to Egypt. I never expected to open my eyes and talk to the Captain. I didn’t know that when I said the words “the life of a sailing man” to him, that he would walk away. Maybe he didn’t expect to hear those words from me or in that moment, just as others don't know that they will go off to war or that they will be born or that they will discover electricity or fly to the moon or change a diaper.

Which things are the omens, which ones are universally understood?

I wondered about all these things, and all the while, the water sparkled and glittered like gold. It felt like finding treasure.

Posted by mpho3 08:40

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