It’s hard to realize we are celebrating two hundred and thirty-nine years of our nation’s Independence. Call it independence, liberty, or freedom, it’s something that rings true for people across the globe whether they live in the United States, a Caribbean island, France, India, or Greece. There breathes not a human whose heart does not beat faster at the thought of freedom.
But freedom shouldn’t just be a political peg we hang our patriotism on. It’s the feeling that sweeps us away when we think of the sea or step on a ship about to carry us far beyond the sight of land. Freedom is the passion that stirred the first mariner to contemplate a place beyond the sight of land. It was that same sense of restlessness Melville confessed to when he admitted to the urge of running down the street knocking hats from the heads of civilized people on a cold November day.
Pirates have been no different. Those who plied their trade in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy nurtured that very feeling. We may think of pirates as disgruntled, rum swilling outlaws who suffered miserably under their leader, but the fact is most pirates actually enjoyed freedom. They signed Articles much like the colonists signed the Declaration of Independence. Rules, regulations, and responsibilities were clearly spelled out.
Their counterparts on a British ship had no such document. Sailors often found themselves aboard a British ship for months if not years either through force or trickery. Press gangs operating near the docks were more than eager to rob honest sailors of their freedom, and once aboard there was nothing they could do about it.
Discipline was strict, life was harsh, and whippings were common. In contrast, life on a pirate ship had the earmarks of a true democracy. Pirate captains could be voted in and out of office. Beatings and whippings could not be readily handed out at the whim of a temperamental captain.
Though life under the jolly roger was easier, it didn’t mean any and all bad-boy behavior was tolerated. Thieves were duly punished. The penalty for killing a shipmate was being tied with the corpse in their hammock and thrown overboard.
As we celebrate our own freedom, it’s good to remember the mystery of the sea has symbolized freedom for many a man and woman. What child has not stood on the shore and dreamed of far away places where he could travel. Children grow into adults and the yearning only grows deeper.
Rare is the child that asks for a toy canoe for Christmas. But sailboats abound under the tree on Christmas Day, beckoning the wonderer to untold visions of freedom and adventure. Continue reading →
Pirates have long enjoyed the notorious reputation of burying chests laden with treasure. Most of the stories are myth, but today I’m asking you, “What’s in your treasure chest? What kind of booty are you after?”
For some of us, it’s houses, cars, and fancy toys. For others adventure is the very touchstone of their soul. It’s why people travel, scuba dive, and jump out of airplanes.
For others it‘s health. Or a satisfied mind. It’s the reason both the Serenity Prayer of St. Francis and Buddhism have been so popular.
For many of us, family and friends are our greatest treasure. For others, it’s using their talents to make a difference. Van Gogh was hardly recognized in his lifetime, yet his treasure chest was chock full of good things. Sadly, only Vincent knew it.
Figuratively speaking, we’re all on the High Seas of Life, swinging our cutlasses, gleefully shouting, “Arrrgh!” Each day we set sail, striving to fill our lives with all the happiness, adventure, and contentment our pirate hearts can hold. Yet everyone’s chest has its own unique mix of treasure, and not one of us can tell another his chest is all wrong. That’s something everyone has to figure out for himself.
Once in a while, we need to drop anchor and dig through our booty. Lots of good stuff in there! But are you missing anything? A better relationship? A dream you left to wither in a shadowy corner of your soul?
Or perhaps your treasure chest has gotten filled with things that no longer work for you. Things that have become more of a burden than a joy. Maybe it’s time to ask yourself, “How does this serve me now?” Letting go of what we cling to opens our hands to new treasure.
Go ahead. Take a look inside that chest of yours before you drop off to sleep tonight. Do you like what you see? Anything missing? Time to make a few adjustments?
When you make that final voyage on the Sea of Life and the Great Mariner greets you, maybe he’ll be grinning more than you when you open your chest and show him what you’ve got.
It was a pretty daunting Tuesday that lay before me. My check-in for my colonoscopy was at 8:00 am. The procedure was at 9:00. With any luck, I’d be sitting in the Applewood House of Pancakes by 11:00, savoring Amy’s Awesome shrimp omelet and a stack of hot pancakes. The preparation leading up to my procedure involved the unavoidable misery the day before. So when my wife pulled into the hospital parking lot at 7:22, It was comforting to know I had time to spare.
Fifteen minutes later, my day began to unwind quicker than the threadbare sails of an aging galleon. “You’re all set,” the receptionist said, as she signed me in. Then there was a long pause as she glanced at the number written next to Tuesday.
“Seventeen what?” I asked.
“The secretary scheduled you for the seventeenth.”
“Yes. Tuesday. It says so right there.”
“She wrote the wrong date,” she replied. “You’re in the computer for tomorrow.”
If there had been anything in my stomach, it certainly would have growled in protest. “Don’t worry. We won’t make you do that preparation again. They’ll have to squeeze you in.”
As I climbed out of the wheel chair and into the waiting car seven hours later, I glanced at my wife. Lunch had proved as elusive as Amy‘s Awesome omelet. But at least my troubles were behind me.
Flashback to a little over four hundred years ago. Sailors hustled on the Cuban dock as a restless breeze rocked the ships that lay at anchor. Noblemen and slaves alike were abuzz as they made final preparations for their trip to Spain. Unimaginable wealth was stored in the ships’ hulls: gold, emeralds, and silver bars. Carefully packed in crates were chalices, plates of silver, and finely crafted jewelry. Then there was the loot the greedy had smuggled aboard to avoid the ship‘s manifest.
Somewhere two hundred miles to the east, a monster with massive arms swirled clouds, wind, and rain wildly in its path. Two days later, the Atocha and twenty-seven other ships in a caravan struggled in mountainous seas. The Atocha and the Margarita were among the unlucky ones, sinking in fifty-five feet of water. As primitive as their forecasting was, the people of the day had warning of what was to come. Yet greed, restlessness, and a yearning to return home overcame their better judgment. Continue reading →