Thursday, February 27, 2014


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 in it is subject to attack and sinking by things we can see coming, the equivalent of air strikes, or those we cannot, like the torpedo from a submarine. And when one ship is stricken, the others steam on, not oblivious, but unable to do anything. We sail on 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, then plunge down into another trough to repeat the process.

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, or rank in the fleet, the important thing is to recognize that we each do have an important role, and each of us has a purpose it is our responsibility to fulfill with dignity and honor. 

Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

I love how powerful your imagery is, D. You'll have to pardon my not already knowing this, but have you ever set one of your novels on a Navy boat? You have such extensive knowledge of some of them, I could see you using it in one of your mysteries and then having one or more of your characters relating the same thoughts you do.

Dorien Grey said...

Thanks, Kage. And though Dick Hardesty was in the navy, and "The Paper Mirror" is about two sailors, I've not yet done a book specifically about the navy other than, of course, my "A World Ago: A Navy Man's Letters Home, 1954-1956".