Sunday, June 1, 2008

At sea

I’ve spent the last week on a cruise. This is not a vacation choice I would have made for myself, but was a wonderful, generous gift from a friend, and it has been revealing. I’ve learned a number of things while I’ve been out here. This isn’t the most inspired of posts, but I still wanted to touch base here, now, while these thoughts are fresh.

First, the ocean is big. Really big. Big in a way defies description and fills me with admiration for those early sailors who took off across the waves in boats much smaller than this one. The ship I’m on is large, I can’t capture it in a single photograph, the publicity shots are all from a helicopter or across a harbor, but in the middle of the ocean, we are no more than a grain of rice in this vast bowl of blue. The horizon that surrounds us is so broad and flat that I imagine bumps and texture that, intellectually, I know are not there, but my imagination places them there because I can’t really comprehend of that much space around me. No wonder early maps had mythical lands on them, no wonder the oceans on most maps, even now, are much smaller than they really are! We can’t believe that we are as finite as the ocean forces us to accept.

Truthfully, I’ve always kind of liked these experiences that force me to come face to face with my finite nature, with my smallness in the enormity of the world. I think I like them because it’s comforting to think that, no matter what I do, it is only the actions of one tiny person in the world and too, it’s a nice way to say, “But I am still here! Even in the face of all that!” This has certainly been the most extended version of that experience I’ve ever had. And this entire ship is designed to minimize that experience. It’s big, it’s confining, and it’s overwrought in its design, a constant statement of “Look at ME!” When I get home I want to spend some time looking at something comparatively simple and small – my garden, a leaf, a wall. Something without neon.

And another thing I’ve learned – while the ocean has reminded me of how small I am, the service here is supposed to make me feel special, but it only serves to make me feel anonymous. The staff are all very pleasant, but they have to be. They aren’t nice because they like me, it’s because they are paid to be. I don’t like this level of servitude, I’d rather get my own cup of tea sometimes, rather know that the person smiling at me actually sees me, not just another customer. I don’t think I really would want to live in the lap of luxury for too long. I’ve discovered I like taking care of myself. Admittedly, someone to do a little more around the house would be nice, but not like this, not for this long.

And a final thing I’ve learned, though not the last, is how very deep pattern recognition runs in people. We see shapes in the water and the horizon and know they are something real, even if they aren’t. After a week on a ship with 3000 people I recognize so many faces. I have the same conversation with most of the people I’ve interacted with (where are you from, what do you do, gosh there’s a lot of food here). We are creatures that recognize patterns because it’s what kept us alive way back when and now it keeps us in routine, safe, familiar. It’s not an adventure, but it does offer comfort. No wonder we keep telling the same stories over and over again. We recognize these patterns, tell these stories, so we know who and where we are, so we’re not lost at sea. We need them, we need to recognize them, just as I recognize the face of the woman I’ve never spoken with but saw in the corridor a few days ago.

Who knows if I might, someday, need her?

(C) 2008 Laura S Packer
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1 comment:

  1. I can relate. For our honeymoon, my husband and I were given a cruise. It was luxurious, I'm sure we gained 5 pounds every day, and it was awkward (to say the least) to be confronted with the reality of the servitude and exploitation which made the experience possible.


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