Tuesday, May 22, 2018

May 22: Collected Dive at Death, Something Traumatic, Cold Water

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.

"Queequeg," said I, when they had dragged me, the last man, to the deck, and I was still shaking myself in my jacket to fling off the water; "Queequeg, my fine friend, does this sort of thing often happen?" Without much emotion, though soaked through just like me, he gave me to understand that such things did often happen.

"Mr. Stubb," said I, turning to that worthy, who, buttoned up in his oil-jacket, was now calmly smoking his pipe in the rain; "Mr. Stubb, I think I have heard you say that of all whalemen you ever met, our chief mate, Mr. Starbuck, is by far the most careful and prudent. I suppose then, that going plump on a flying whale with your sail set in a foggy squall is the height of a whaleman's discretion?"

"Certain. I've lowered for whales from a leaking ship in a gale off Cape Horn."

"Mr. Flask," said I, turning to little King-Post, who was standing close by; "you are experienced in these things, and I am not. Will you tell me whether it is an unalterable law in this fishery, Mr. Flask, for an oarsman to break his own back pulling himself back-foremost into death's jaws?"

"Can't you twist that smaller?" said Flask. "Yes, that's the law. I should like to see a boat's crew backing water up to a whale face foremost. Ha, ha! the whale would give them squint for squint, mind that!"

Here then, from three impartial witnesses, I had a deliberate statement of the entire case. Considering, therefore, that squalls and capsizings in the water and consequent bivouacks on the deep, were matters of common occurrence in this kind of life; considering that at the superlatively critical instant of going on to the whale I must resign my life into the hands of him who steered the boat- oftentimes a fellow who at that very moment is in his impetuousness upon the point of scuttling the craft with his own frantic stampings; considering that the particular disaster to our own particular boat was chiefly to be imputed to Starbuck's driving on to his whale almost in the teeth of a squall, and considering that Starbuck, notwithstanding, was famous for his great heedfulness in the fishery; considering that I belonged to this uncommonly prudent Starbuck's boat; and finally considering in what a devil's chase I was implicated, touching the White Whale: taking all things together, I say, I thought I might as well go below and make a rough draft of my will. "Queequeg," said I, "come along, you shall be my lawyer, executor, and legatee."

It may seem strange that of all men sailors should be tinkering at their last wills and testaments, but there are no people in the world more fond of that diversion. This was the fourth time in my nautical life that I had done the same thing. After the ceremony was concluded upon the present occasion, I felt all the easier; a stone was rolled away from my heart. Besides, all the days I should now live would be as good as the days that Lazarus lived after his resurrection; a supplementary clean gain of so many months or weeks as the case may be. I survived myself; my death and burial were locked up in my chest. I looked round me tranquilly and contentedly, like a quiet ghost with a clean conscience sitting inside the bars of a snug family vault.

Now then, thought I, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves of my frock, here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction, and the devil fetch the hindmost.

Whenever something traumatic happens, I always spend time reflecting and evaluating my life.  That's what Ishmael is doing here.  His boat was capsized by a whale, and he almost drowned.  It's something that happens frequently on whaling ships, his companions assure him.  However, Ishmael needs to take stock of his life and loved ones.  Afterwards, he feels calmer.  At peace.

In the last few years, I've encountered some difficult circumstances.  Nothing life-threatening, but things that have made me reevaluate some aspects of my life.  When my father passed away this February, I spent a good deal of time thinking about my relationship with him.  I haven't elevated him to the status of saint, as some of my siblings have.  He was a flawed man.  However, I have taken time to appreciate what he did for me and our family.

For example, until he couldn't drive anymore, he cut the grass at my house all summer.  He would bring his riding lawnmower over and spend an hour in the afternoon sun manicuring my yard.  I never asked him to do it.  He just made it part of his routine.  I think it was my father's way of demonstrating his love for me. He wasn't a very outwardly affectionate man.  But, he took care of his kids almost to the very end.

When my wife and I were separated for a year, I spent many nights evaluating my life choices.  It was one of the most difficult times I've ever experienced, but I learned a lot about myself.  I had a daughter in kindergarten, two full-time jobs, and a household to run.  I became really good at volunteering in my daughter's classroom in the morning, working in the afternoon, and grocery shopping in the evening.  Certainly, I experienced many dark, lonely nights.  But I found out that I was a pretty good father.  I also learned a great deal about forgiveness.

Losing my brother suddenly taught me how quickly things can change.  Losing my sister taught me about living a good life and the dignity of dying.  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  Tragedy and near tragedy has a way of making things real.  Stripping away all the stupid day-to-day worries.  That's what Ishmael learns in that cold water, too.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for all the crap that he's gone through.

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