Saturday, May 19, 2018

May 19: Ahab Leaped, Difficult Cheapskates, Break Your Heart

"I can't see three seas off; tip us up an oar there, and let me onto that."

Upon this, Daggoo, with either hand upon the gunwale to steady his way, swiftly slid aft, and then erecting himself volunteered his lofty shoulders for a pedestal.

"Good a mast-head as any, sir. Will you mount?"

"That I will, and thank ye very much, my fine fellow; only I wish you fifty feet taller."

Whereupon planting his feet firmly against two opposite planks of the boat, the gigantic negro, stooping a little, presented his flat palm to Flask's foot, and then putting Flask's hand on his hearse-plumed head and bidding him spring as he himself should toss, with one dexterous fling landed the little man high and dry on his shoulders. And here was Flask now standing, Daggoo with one lifted arm furnishing him with a breastband to lean against and steady himself by.

At any time it is a strange sight to the tyro to see with what wondrous habitude of unconscious skill the whaleman will maintain an erect posture in his boat, even when pitched about by the most riotously perverse and cross-running seas. Still more strange to see him giddily perched upon the logger head itself, under such circumstances. But the sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious; for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen-haired Flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. Though truly vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious little Flask would now and then stamp with impatience; but not one added heave did he thereby give to the negro's lordly chest. So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her seasons for that.

Meanwhile Stubb, the third mate, betrayed no such far-gazing solicitudes. The whales might have made one of their regular soundings, not a temporary dive from mere fright; and if that were the case, Stubb, as his wont in such cases, it seems, was resolved to solace the languishing interval with his pipe. He withdrew it from his hatband, where he always wore it aslant like a feather. He loaded it, and rammed home the loading with his thumb-end; but hardly had he ignited his match across the rough sandpaper of his hand, when Tashtego, his harpooneer, whose eyes had been setting to windward like two fixed stars, suddenly dropped like light from his erect attitude to his seat, crying out in a quick phrensy of hurry, "Down, down all, and give way!- there they are!"

To a landsman, no whale, nor any sign of a herring, would have been visible at that moment; nothing but a troubled bit of greenish white water, and thin scattered puffs of vapor hovering over it, and suffusingly blowing off to leeward, like the confused scud from white rolling billows. The air around suddenly vibrated and tingled, as it were, like the air over intensely heated plates of iron. Beneath this atmospheric waving and curling, and partially beneath a thin layer of water, also, the whales were swimming. Seen in advance of all the other indications, the puffs of vapor they spouted, seemed their forerunning couriers and detached flying outriders.

All four boats were now in keen pursuit of that one spot of troubled water and air. But it bade far outstrip them; it flew on and on, a mass of interblending bubbles borne down a rapid stream from the hills.

"Pull, pull, my good boys," said Starbuck, in the lowest possible but intensest concentrated whisper to his men; while the sharp fixed glance from his eyes darted straight ahead of the bow, almost seemed as two visible needles in two unerring binnacle compasses. He did not say much to his crew, though, nor did his crew say anything to him. Only the silence of the boat was at intervals startlingly pierced by one of his peculiar whispers, now harsh with command, now soft with entreaty.

How different the loud little King-Post. "Sing out and say something, my hearties. Roar and pull, my thunderbolts! Beach me, beach me on their black backs, boys; only do that for me, and I'll sign over to you my Martha's Vineyard plantation, boys; including wife and children, boys. Lay me on- lay me on! O Lord, Lord! but I shall go stark, staring mad! See! see that white water!" And so shouting, he pulled his hat from his head, and stamped up and down on it; then picking it up, flirted it far off upon the sea; and finally fell to rearing and plunging in the boat's stern like a crazed colt from the prairie.

"Look at that chap now," philosophically drawled Stubb, who, with his unlighted short pipe, mechanically retained between his teeth, at a short distance, followed after- "He's got fits, that Flask has. Fits? yes, give him fits- that's the very word- pitch fits into 'em. Merrily, merrily, hearts-alive. Pudding for supper, you know;- merry's the word. Pull, babes- pull, sucklings- pull, all. But what the devil are you hurrying about? Softly, softly, and steadily, my men. Only pull, and keep pulling; nothing more. Crack all your backbones, and bite your knives in two- that's all. Take it easy- why don't ye take it easy, I say, and burst all your livers and lungs!"

But what it was that inscrutable Ahab said to that tiger-yellow crew of his- these were words best omitted here; for you live under the blessed light of the evangelical land. Only the infidel sharks in the audacious seas may give ear to such words, when, with tornado brow, and eyes of red murder, and foam-glued lips, Ahab leaped after his prey.

The crew of the Pequod is a motley family of people, with personalities to match.  There are men who are excitable and passionate.  Men who are more reserved, rational.  Impulsive men and careful men.  Green sailors and seasoned.  Nantucket men, Native and African American, Asian and Pacific Islander.  And, at the head of all of them, is Ahab, inscrutable and dark.

Pretty much that describes any group of people that calls itself a family.  Families are made up of both sweet, giving people and difficult cheapskates.  Families argue and fight.  They pull together in times of loss and grief, drift apart when life is serene and blue.  Individuals drive you crazy and break your heart.

I have a large family of friends and relatives.  People I care about deeply.  That doesn't mean that, at one point or another, I don't want to disown people, drive them out of my life like a feral cat or dog.  It happens all the time.  Thank goodness I have the presence of mind to keep my mouth shut, not act when those feelings overtake me.  I know that time has a way of making me see reason, especially when family members do things that make NO sense to me at all.

I know that I'm being very cryptic here, talking in abstract.  If this blog post was an essay written by one of my students, I would scribble this in my comments:  "You need to be specific.  Provide concrete examples to back up what you are seeing.  Show, don't tell."  I would probably give this post about a C to a C+.  I'm a pretty tough grader.

However, I can't really talk specifically about what prompted this little rant.  I don't want to upset the people in my family.  It's one of those moments when it is better to sit back, offer advice if I'm asked for it, and take the C+.

I will say one thing, though.  At the end of life, it won't matter that you have a million dollars in the bank.  Three cars in the garage.  Two houses and a camp.  It won't matter that you have enough wealth and possessions to live for another 25 or 30 years.  You're still going to die.  The choice is what you do with all that stuff.  Do you hoard it like Gollum with his ring?  Turn into a shriveled version of yourself, alone and blind?  Or do you enjoy what you have?  Be Scrooge after the ghosts, choosing love and generosity, helping Tiny Tim get healthy and strong?

Saint Marty is thankful today for his family--the Gollums and the Scrooges.

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