Once upon a time, I worked for the feds with a man named Ben. Ben was a tall, barrel chested black man with hands larger than my head. I’m pretty sure that football was in his past- something above highschool level. And true to the stereotype, he was a giant teddy bear.
However, in my role within Human Resources, Ben was a constant struggle. He wasn’t known for timely responses to emails, or returning phone calls. My job required very specific paperwork to be completed in order to hire the employees Ben wanted. But Ben couldn’t be tethered to check lists. He had bigger fish to fry, and people – survivors to help. And so it would go. I’d finally corner Ben on getting his signature, and he’d be called to assist in a remote county across the country. My firm belief in science was the only thing keeping me from assuming that he was able to spin up tornadoes when he wanted to avoid paperwork. I was deployed to one of the disasters with Ben and was curious to see a different side of him. What kept him so busy that he couldn’t sign paperwork for me?
His team often worked weeks of 16 hour days at the beginning of a deployment. Many days in a row with little sleep and even less time to decompress. During one meeting, one of the higher ups put Ben on the spot asking him to do “the reading.” There was no confusion, and only feigned hesitation. Suddenly Ben stood in front of hundreds of disaster response employees and spoke in a voice that needed no amplification. He recited the following from memory:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, When the road you’re trusting seems all up hill, When the funds are low and the debts are high, And you want to smile but you have to sigh, When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest! if you must; but don’t you quit. Life is queer with it’s twists and turns, As everyone of us sometimes learns, And many a failure turns about, When he might have won had he stuck it out; Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow, You might succeed with another blow. Often the goal is nearer than It seems to a faint and faltering man, Often the struggler has given up, When he might have captured the victor’s cup. And he learned too late, when the night slipped down, How close he was to the golden crown. Success is failure turned inside out; The silver tint of the clouds of doubt; And if you never can tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems afar; So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit; It’s when things seem worst that you must not q uit.
I didn’t memorize his speech, but I do still carry a copy of it after all these years. Ben passed away suddenly not long after I heard him recite this message. He was a professional pain in my ass, but he always made me smile. And every time I come across the printout of this speech I smile again.
This time it happened to be after a two day passage from Mazatlán to Isla San Francisco. Most of the passage was idyllic until the last morning. At 5am Craig jostled me in my bunk saying, “I think both of us should be on deck right now.” That’s a wake up call you never hope to get.
I could already feel the nausea creeping in at the periphery while I waited for the right lull in the swell to jump out of my bunk. When the lull never materialized, I climbed out and started to wrap myself in waterproof clothing. “I’m trying!” I shouted to Craig so he would know I hadn’t hit the proverbial snooze button. “No rush,” he replied. “Bullshit,” I thought as I struggled to stay standing.
Before I was even on deck I started shouting orders, because I’m the fucking admiral. “Dump the main! Why are we heeling this much?!” He was reluctant to admit it in the moment, but I wasn’t down the rabbit hole with him and I had a clear view.
Over the next six hours we battled gale force winds and waves. We covered a scant few miles, and saw countless gallons of green water flow across the deck. At times we had standing water in the gunwhales and I watched the lines float fore and aft as we crested each peak of the swell. Fuck that.
More importantly, fuck the captain of the tanker who almost hit us. I am willing to admit our responsibility in getting too close to another vessel. Consider it so stipulated. But that guy didn’t respond to multiple radio calls in an attempt to coordinate safe passage. We gybed out of the way, puncturing the cover on our Hydrovane. (Craig says Jibbers has stigmata now. #Blessed) If my eyes could shoot lasers, the side of that vessel would read “I wear socks with sandals” as it sank in front of a crowd of people.
Listen. The point is, I didn’t memorize Ben’s speech and I certainly didn’t recall it when I wished certain embarrassment on that crew. But those six hours tested us and I’m proud of how we handled it all. I was able to hand steer through the nausea; Craig was able to navigate a deck awash in green water. We are really doing this cruising thing. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but it’s too late now.
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.