Becalmed

A ship sails in the darkness. Only three people are aboard. The captain stands on the deck, watching the stars’ reflection in the calm waters that lie beyond the ripples that the ships rocking movement is creating. She sends an arm out, wishing she could touch them – the reflections, not the stars. The stars are too far away. They’re intangible and require faith. The little specks on the water, however, are as real to the captain as the silver streaks that she sees during the day and knows to be fish.

Her first mate lies stretched out in her cabin below. It is not her watch yet. The captain will wake her when she’s needed, she has no doubt about that. But she cannot sleep, even though it’s almost impossible, making a ship work smoothly with only a captain to guide her and a half-mad, broken-down sailor to aid her. She worries about the following day and wonders whether the winds will finally rise and help them. She’s heard horror stories before about becalmed ships, but she never thought that it would be so incredibly frightening to be on one. The absence of any certainty is eating away at her: she knows not when the winds will rise, she knows not when she will see land again, she knows not whether she will live to touch her loved ones again. There is enough food to last a while, but the water has begun to seem a lot less plentiful than it had a week ago when the winds disappeared.

The lone sailor, a simpleton to begin with and driven almost out of her wits by the plague that destroyed the rest of the once large crew, rocks back and forth in her hammock in the large, empty room that she shared, until two weeks ago, with many others. The ropes creak comfortingly and she hums their notes as she swings, trying to lull herself into comfort. She has had no joy beyond the wooden planks of this ship; it is the one and only place she has ever found camaraderie. It’s almost all gone now, and she clings to the memories of what she had and tries to forget the sight of her fellow sailors in their death throes.

The wind doesn’t pick up. There is no hope yet for the three aboard the ship. But all three are human, and so they cannot help hoping anyway.

Conversion

“Convince me.”

The whispered challenge echoed in the otherwise silent, empty space. The words didn’t seem to disperse and the lips that had uttered them were still curled aggressively around them. A skittering noise in the wall broke the spell of rage, announcing that the place wasn’t quite as empty as it seemed; there were mice in the walls, at the very least.

A statue loomed at one end of the hall. It was a tragic figure, mouth turned down, eyelids drooping sadly, shoulders drawn up in a helpless gesture. If it was expected to respond, it stayed disappointingly still.

“Convince me!”

No whisper this time; a harsh, ragged voice flew around the high ceiling and traveled up and down the walls. The mice stopped their scratching, fearful of the stranger invading their nocturnal freedom. Sharp whistles came from the speaker’s chest as air wheezed in and out of it. Illness was in the air. The statue’s frown almost seemed to deepen, perhaps in mourning.

“CONVINCE ME!”

The shout dispersed the quickest. Two thumps followed; the mice fled, thinking it was the cat jumping down from some high object. What followed was the most profound lack of sound, more of an absence of anything substantial rather than true silence.

Everybody Dies

It’s an inevitable truth that everybody dies. We don’t all go in the same way. Not all of us get to live long enough. Too many of us die before our time. I say us, because humanity is a species, a world-wide animal that has taken over this planet. Doesn’t matter what you believe – in Darwin’s theories of evolution or in God creating the world in six days or the hundred other explanations people have to figure out how we got here. It doesn’t really matter why we’re here. Only that we are. And that we all die.

Some people believe in a beyond –  a heaven or a hell or something in between. Some believe that we’re all born again into a new body after we die. Some of us believe that there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that dying is the simple end of life itself, with nothing further. Once again, it doesn’t really matter what we believe about what happens after death. Some of us may take comfort in knowing that there’s a better place that we go to. But some, maybe even many, would rather keep going with their lives as long as they can without finding out what’s awaiting.

Everybody dies. Yes. It’s a simple truth. Death is portrayed as a dark angel, a hooded figure with a sickle, a looming darkness, a white light, a sense of peace… None of us will know what death is until it happens to us. The only thing I can imagine about death is silence. Absolute silence. So still, so extremely quiet, that it’s deafening.

Why does everybody die? It’s the simple cycle of nature, or God, or Gods – whatever and whomever you want to attribute it to. Some people believe there’s a reason – a sin, or a mistake, or something that needs punishing. Some people believe there’s a reason – that a person is too good to live in this world of fear and darkness. Some people simply believe there are no reasons.

The problem is, until now, this looks like a depressing, rather scattered article about death. But is it? Really? Isn’t knowing that death is inevitable freeing somehow? It can let us live without fear, without the constant gnawing pangs of worry over what might happen to us when we fly, or cross the road, or have a surgery. I can’t say that knowing that death is waiting for us all helps when someone we love dies. It doesn’t help then, and won’t ever, because losing someone is more difficult than losing oneself, or most always is.

But in terms of each of our own personal lives – there’s a freedom to being aware of the simple truth that humans, just like all other animals, procreate and then die, leaving the world to become, hopefully, a better place.

For Aba

I want to believe in heaven.
I want to believe that you’re there.
I want to believe you’re comfortable.
I want to believe you’re still watching.
I want to believe you can hear me say “I love you”.
I want to know that you’re ok.
I want to know that you’re not just…
Gone.
I want to believe that I’ll join one day.
I want to hope that I’ll see you again.
I want to hope that death doesn’t truly part us.
I want to believe in heaven.
But then again,
You didn’t believe.
So how would you even be there?

Emily Dickinson

Ever since I read a silly little-girl book that had an explanation about who Emily Dickinson was, I’ve liked her. I only read a few of her poems back then, but I loved the idea of her. Not only was her name beautiful, but she had a certain strange charm about her – a recluse, misunderstood, hated having people look at her, wrote all the time… She was an appealing mystery.
When I went on my college-trip, I had the great pleasure of taking a class at Occidental College in Los Angeles. The class I chose was a class about Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The poem we studied was this, number 202:

“Faith” is a fine invention

For Gentlemen who see!

But Microscopes are prudent

In an Emergency!

The amount of discussion and conversation that went into the quotation marks around the first word, faith, was astounding. We spent an hour, a whole hour, on the meanings that can be derived from that. Perhaps she meant faith as a concept, perhaps she meant to be ironic or sarcastic about the meaning of faith, perhaps she simply wanted to make sure it was clear she meant the word faith as its own thing. Emily Dickinson usually has underlined words in her poems, odd capitalisation in the middle of sentences, strange and mysterious punctuation – all these things are great for beginning discussions in class.

Ms. M gave me a complete set of Emily Dickinson’s poems as a gift after I raved about that class. Her poems are beautiful. I consider myself now a fan.