Tall Order

The masts tower above the docks on Commercial Street, three tall visitors from away, from far, far away.  The tall ships, Spirit of Bermuda, Privateer Lynx and Nao Santa Maria docked here for the festival that never happened last year for a few days this weekend before they’ll head again out to sea and ports further South. Out to the whales, the porpoises, the waves as high as the ship itself, the endless water, the brilliant sunrises and surging storms, the dull routines that the crew have told us is life at sea.  

Its all textures of rain here this Friday morning. In Seattle what we’d call “drizzle” turning to “showers” turning to “rain” and a good soaking “downpour” that we’ve so needed on this parched land. A roll of thunder as we grab hold of the wet ropes on either side of the steep gangways and step on board to another world.  As the rain pours down, a sense of what it might be like to be on board this ship at sea in the storms they have come through to make their way here. “No protection from the elements here,” one old sailor tells us.  

The Spirit of Bermuda is a teaching sloop serving the youth of Bermuda.  For five days, the Middle School students set sail around Bermuda, the first time many have left their island home and set out to sea. 

“No cell phones, no sugar allowed on board,” the crew member explains.  “On day three everyone falls apart,” she says. “And there is the opportunity in their breakdowns for a breakthrough.  For something new, something deeper in them to be born.”  

Likewise for the college student from Colorado I talked to onboard the Nao Santa Maria. He tells me of three days of seasickness that started his apprenticeship on board.  

“It was terrible,” he says, “It’s part physical, part mental, the adjustment your brain and body need to make to the constant lilt of the sea.  You don’t want to eat but you have to eat. But after three days your body adjusts, starts to get used to moving with the boat and not fighting against it.”

He’s hopeful that he’s heard from another new sailor that after the second time out he’d had only two days of seasickness and after the third, only one.  

I remember what it was like out on the trail.  Those first three days of adjustment. The tight knot in my back that first day that rebelled against the audacity of carrying a thirty-three pound pack.  The soreness of my feet, the hot spots that would soon break out into half a dozen blisters. All the thoughts, considerations, everything of home that I ruminated on, obsessed about and needed to put down. The need to be emptied out in body and mind in order to be present, present here with each footstep, each breath.  A quieting of everything that rebelled against what was not familiar, not of comfort and home so that I could find my way to home, here in the woods.  

It took me nine days, not three, to discover what it is about hiking that some people like. After eight days of adjusting to the pack, the pace of long days and nights of little sleep, on day nine I stepped fully that morning into the swing of my pack, the steady rhythm of the trail, the pleasure of exertion, stepping up and higher than I’d found imaginable a few days before. Enjoying myself, enjoying being here immensely.  Awake and alive and here, just here.  

As I turned back for one last picture, I wonder on the young people on these tall ships.  The tall order that the captain and crew have set for them.  The trust that they have in them, that they indeed can do hard things. Do different, do sickness and sugarless, do without internet and time to call their own, do it to discover what is on the other side of all that is hard, of all they thought possible. Christianity calls it the fancy word of resurrection. Which is really another way of finding that there is new life when none saw it coming.  A different life, yes, a new way and awareness. A life that you can’t explain or make sense of but that can only experience, only take in one step, one breath at a time.  

I don’t know what these young people would call it, that which I see it in their faces, in the set of their  eyes.  This budding wisdom, a seeing, a knowing of having been through something that matters.  The knowledge that they too are vulnerable and resilient. Have more grit in them than they ever knew. A kind of calm presence planted in them, a small bud that blooms here in the silent steadiness of the old gray bearded crew who have seen it all and yet set out again to share in the wonder of all that is the sea.  

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