Someone once asked me: What’s with this obsession with pirates? If we all live like pirates, won’t we degenerate into a bunch of selfish cutthroats creating a hell for each other? The truth is living life with a pirate spirit is not about cheating and lying to aggrandize ourselves. It isn’t about taking what doesn’t belong to you. The thugs who create havoc around the world stealing ships, taking hostages, maiming and killing aren’t really part of this pirate equation. In denying mariners their property, their right to earn an honest living on the seas, and often enough their lives, these criminals become the very pariah they flail against.
Living life with a pirate spirit is really about reclaiming your life and your dreams, two things stolen from many of us a long, long time ago. The reason pirates from the Golden Age appeal so strongly to us is that they symbolize the independent, swashbuckling adventurer we all long to be, an adventurer willing to take chances to bring his dreams to life.
Sailors love the sea for the very same reason. Beyond the sight of land, a thousand miles from everywhere, something stirs in us and we feel alive like it was the first day of creation. Anything and everything suddenly becomes possible.
There’s another aspect to living our pirate dreams. When we become emboldened and take steps to make our dreams real, there is a rippling effect, so that we can’t help but want others to live their dreams as well.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “We are all islands in a common sea.” The humanity we share, knowing what it is to hope and dream and love and despair, these are the things that connect us to each other. No island ever became greater by taking from another. Would you live your pirate dreams? Then encourage others to do the same. You cannot claim freedom for yourself and deny it to others.
What chance have you taken lately? What dreams burn in your heart? What are you willing to do this coming week to help make one of them come true? Steal back part of your life. Chart a new course, and when you see a fellow mariner on the sea of life, lend him a helping hand. Pirates like other pirates. They love their adventurous spirit; they relate to the yearnings deep in their hearts. You can see it at a Jimmy Buffett concert. You can see it at a Bike Rally. Stand fast! See you out on the High Seas.
I think those who object to pirates generally do so for two reasons. First, they point to pirates as nasty, evil men and women who made travel on the sea a precarious and dangerous adventure. Some, indeed, were downright diabolical as can be testified by the ilk of Francis L’Ollonais, Edward Low, and Henry Morgan. Yes, that Henry Morgan who straddled the fence between pirate and privateer quite adeptly. At one point, Henry wasn’t above using nuns and monks as shields when he attacked the fortress at San Geronimo. Clearly these men were sadistic and evil, taking no small pleasure in seeing men and women brutalized for their own personal gain. But not all pirates fit that profile. Many pirates who have been demonized for centuries were not always the vile, murderous figures history has portrayed them to be. One only has to read Colin Woodward’s stellar book The Republic of Pirates to realize many were victims of circumstances. Richard Zacks’ in his revealing book The Pirate Hunter convincingly discounts the myth that Captain Kidd was the world‘s most wicked and notorious pirate. Whatever you can say about pirates and those with a pirate heart, one thing is true. Each is motivated by his own dreams… and whatever they are, a real pirate is willing to lay down his life for them. It’s too bad more people today don’t have that kind of passion.
The second reason pirates make some people feel uncomfortable is that few want to admit we all have the seeds of great good and terrible evil in us. Which ones we water determines what we become. Given the proper circumstances only God knows who among us would have gladly sailed under the jolly roger. Today we tend to romanticize pirates perhaps because we recognize that there is something within them that resonates in our own hearts. The history and literature of the world is filled with stories of men and women both fictional and real who rose from oppression and boldly struck out on their own to follow their dreams- consequences be damned. Their environment may have been landlocked fiefdoms instead of the high seas, but these heroes and heroines had a pirate heart just the same. Joan of Arc, Socrates, Thomas More, The Lone Ranger, Zorro, Davy Crockett, Julius Caesar, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman. It’s why we root for pirates despite David Cordingly’s solid job of debunking a host of pirate myths in his book Under the Black Flag.
To us, Pirates were the good guys who in some way strove to throw off repression and cruelty inflicted by unfair governments and social castes. We see something of ourselves in them. We recognize unfairness and injustice when we see it and stand and cheer when someone bucks the system and fights back. We’re not just cheering for a pirate that knows how to sneer Arrgh. We’re cheering for ourselves because we too have known what it’s like to be oppressed by an insensitive boss or been bullied by an HOA or mistreated by a surly clerk or abused by an unfair insurance adjuster. It’s that part of the pirate we love.
Those with a pirate heart always challenge mainstream thinking and because of it risk becoming outcasts and paying the price. To be sure, we despise men and women who would readily cheat us of our possessions or deprive us of our lives. We spurn and despise the Bernie Madoffs of the world just as quickly as we eschew the pirates that plague the waters off eastern Africa. Yet we admire any soul who courageously breaks from the status quo to pursue his dreams.
The person with a pirate spirit today has a lot in common with the pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy. He stands tall, willing to push back on anyone and any power who would rob him of what is rightfully his. Namely, his life and his dreams. In those quiet moments, you can hear your dreams call your name. What plans are you forming to make them come true? What are you going to do today to reclaim your life out there on the high seas of Life? May God Speed, and may you always have the wind at your back and following seas. See you out there on the high seas of life. Aarrgghh!
Uncommon Mariners: A Nautical Almanac
A Voyage in a Book
How would you like to chase pirates and mariners across the seven seas? I’ve written a book Uncommon Mariners, and if you like the sea, and things of the sea, and stories about men and women who have lived and died on it, I think you’re going to love this book. But let’s forget the book for now, and let me tell you a little something about my birth into the world of the sea, pirates, and mariners.
Maybe it was one of those day trips to the Jersey Shore as a kid. My oldest sister Sandi and my brother-in-law Larry Molinaro arrived at the curb of my home in their maroon Lincoln, and they piled my sisters and me into the back seat along with my mother and off we went barreling down Black Horse Pike. The pungent salt air that rose from the marshes outside Atlantic City and the sand castles I built at the edge of that miraculous sea were bliss itself.
It was with a deep sense of loss that I packed up my sand bucket and shovel and headed for the local bathhouse as the sun lowered in the sky. Weeks later back in Philly, I could still feel the rise and fall of the sea as surely as those white curling breakers hurled themselves relentlessly towards my sandcastle that hot August day.
Or maybe it was that auspicious birthday years later, when my daughter Maureen and her husband Jason Olsen gave me the legendary gift box of Jimmy Buffett’s four CD’s Beaches, Boats, Bars, and Ballads. There was something about that mix of songs on the Boats CD that awakened the sleeping pirate in me. Suddenly, a black flag snapped somewhere in my brain, and I realized Jimmy vocalized what I had been feeling for years.
My first trip to the Florida Keys only further inflamed those pirate aspirations. Less than fifty yards down the isolation of Card Sound Road, civilization was replaced by the stark beauty of a paradise I could only guess at, and I knew I was home. Anyone who ever set foot on a ship and lost sight of land knows what I‘m talking about. I stood on the edge of the Universe and my whole soul opened up and I was swept into eternity.
Soon after, I experienced another event that insured I would never sleep again without the Jolly Roger wrapped tightly around my soul. One crisp October afternoon, while doing yard work, I disturbed a nest of hornets. I was stung on my ankle as the machine rattled and snarled at the aggravated bees. Armed with a can of wasp killer in each hand, the scene quickly deteriorated into hand to hand combat. Eventually I was able to slip in between the fragmented cloud of bees and turn the machine off. I left the wasps that were left to deal with their dying and dead.