Excerpt of Seal Lullaby from the Chapter The White Seal:
“…The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas!”
-Rudyard Kipling from The Jungle Books
The ocean is afflicted with multiple personality disorder. I am sure of it The disorder is rare and dissociative, where multiple personalities exist in one individual. In a similar way the sailor is afflicted with a personality dichotomy. Less severe than the personality disorder of the ocean, the sailor is constantly trying to strike a balance between the polar opposite conditions of sailing, depending on the ocean. The polar opposite conditions, of course, are love and hate accompanied by pleasure and pain.
One day, the ocean is aggressive. She can’t stand the sight of herself and moans and thrashes all day. She comes at you strong then intensifies, knowing you will, or your boat, will break soon. She whitecaps, the rain starts and she laughs because she knows you want to cry. You hate when she assumes this personality. You know she can better than this but is weak and sometimes slips into this combative state. Part of your brain buckles down and sails the ship to an anchorage (the best part of you does this, which is why you survive). The other part of you doesn’t care of the ship sinks or swims. You vow (silently of course, as not to upset the other crew members) never to sail again. This is the depressive state of the sailor’s personality dichotomy. However, part of you knows this will make you stronger. Again, the best part of you endures.
The next day, the ocean is sweet. She gently throws rolling waves on the side of your boat, flirting. Begging you to come in for a swim in her clear, blue waters. The wind is perfect. You’re heeled on the “sweet spot”, the ultimate heel that allows you to maximize speed and still walk around the boat, genuinely enjoying the sail. Even the dog is quite on this day. He is content to spend the good weather day lying in the sun, rocking to sleep with his people at his side, who he knows are happy too. This personality shift in the ocean brings about the more manic phase of the sailor’s personality dichotomy. You love the sail, you love the ocean, you love the wind, you love your partner, you love the scummy feel of the clothes you’ve been wearing for days. The freedom sets in.
Whether you sail or not, this feeling of freedom is ubiquitous. Physically, your head begins to feel light and your stomach turns over a bit. You’re skin gets cool from your toes and runs up your spine. The hair on your arms and legs stand up and a shit eating grin spans across your face. The grin is so big all your back teeth are exposed to the wind. The cold wind hurts them just a little, and it feels good. You even shift your smile into the wind to feel the freedom on your teeth better. The only thing you want to do is smile even bigger or scream! Sometimes I even get the urge to jump off the boat and float on top of the waves like a lazy river. When the freedom sets in, nothing bad can happen to you, jump ship or not, it doesn’t matter. You may have felt this freedom at takeoff in an airplane (I do every time I fly). You may have felt it at mile 6 if you are a runner. When your mind separates from your body and your body just gives in. At this point, you know your legs and lungs will take you as far as you want to go. Your feet start to float, raising your body off the ground and you can run forever in the clouds (Brian Simpson??). The feeling can come as you peer down the Grand Canyon trying to keep yourself from jumping off the edge. You don’t want to kill yourself, you just don’t want the freedom to end, only flying will make you feel any more free than you are staring over the precipice of the Canyon. The freedom comes when you are affronted with magic.
Now do you know what I mean? The ocean can be a sadistic pig or a gentle mother. The sailor is the massochist, faring the pain because it shares the same foundations as pleasure. As sailors, we manage to forget how wrongly the ocean has treated us, hoping only for the fair days, when the mother is in a generous mood. Through this battle between love and hate, pleasure and pain we find freedom.