Friday, January 15, 2010


You may have noticed that I’m rather fond of similes and metaphors for life and the human condition. They are constantly bubbling to the surface of my mind, unbidden.

Some time ago, I posted a blog comparing life to a leaky little boat, with each of us bailing frantically to stay afloat. Today, perhaps more inspired by my Navy videos than the leaky boats blog, another bubble broke the surface. I suddenly found myself envisioning stock footage from a WWII era newsreel, looking down through the clouds on a huge flotilla of naval ships. Carriers, destroyers, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, battleships, support vessels of every description, tankers, troop ships…hundreds of them, spread over miles and miles of the ocean’s surface, each individual vessel moving in the same direction and at the same speed, toward the same destination with the same goal. It was also one of those optical illusions where one moment you see it as a unit (the flotilla), and the next you see the individual ships which constitute it.

And that, I thought, is a pretty good analogy for how humanity works. We are as diverse as the ships of the fleet, yet are all sailing through the sometimes stormy sea of life, each one a totally unique individual, operating both individually and as part of a vastly larger whole.

In a wartime flotilla every ship subject to attack and sinking by the equivalent of unseen submarines or air strikes. And when one ship is stricken, the others steam on, not oblivious, but unable to do anything. In the each-of-us-a-ship analogy, however, we sail together toward a horizon which none of us--no matter how big or small--will ever reach. As those who have sailed beside or at various distances from us for years slip beneath the waves, we sail on because we have no other choice than but to do so. And as we ourselves are torpedoed and sink, as inevitably must happen, the rest of the fleet continues on, our place in the flotilla taken up by another ship.

I’d like to think of myself as a carrier, of course…a proud, awe-inspiring, majestic flagship of one of the many battle groups of the fleet. But I am probably, in reality, a little grey destroyer paroling the perimeter of the fleet, cutting resolutely through the turbulent seas, plunging headlong into gigantic waves only to rise up in a huge spray of water washing over my bow.

There are, both in naval fleets and in life, priorities--probably more clear in ships than in people. In the navies of the world, it is the carriers which must be protected at all costs. The rest of the fleet is expendable. In human terms, world leaders…rightly or wrongly…are the carriers: the people they lead are the rest of the fleet. But regardless of our designation, place, rank, or role in the fleet, the important thing is to recognize that we each do have one, and each of us has a purpose it is our responsibility to fulfill with dignity and honor.

Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!

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