Thursday, November 22, 2007

Time to Spare

Mark Twain wrote the ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, in which he poses questions to the reader, perhaps with tongue in cheek, or rather more seriously he makes statements about the characters within his novel which in turn may challenge the reader in his own experiences. He describes an episode when Huck and Jim spent a day hidden ashore while en passage down the Mississippi on a log raft. They were having an unaccustomed period of relaxation when Huck read stories to ‘learn’ Jim in the ways of Kings and how they spend their time.

The story goes as follows:

I read considerable to Jim about kings, and dukes, and earls, and such, and how gaudy they dressed, and how much style they put on, and called each other your majesty, and your grace, and your lordship, and so on, ‘stead of mister; and Jim’s eyes bugged out, and he was interested.

He says:

‘I didn’t know dey was so many un um. I hain’t hearn ‘bout none un um, skasely, but ole King Sollermun, onless you counts dem kings dat’s in a pack er k’yards. How much do a king git?’

‘Git? I says; why, they get a thousand dollars a month if they want; everything belongs to them.’

‘Aint dat gay? En what dey got to do, Huck?’

‘They don’t do nothing! Why, how you talk. They just set around.’

‘No – is dat so?’

‘Of course it is. They just set around. Except maybe when there’s a war; then they go to war. But other times they just lazy around; or go hawking – just hawking ………’

The retiree often remarks that he is busier than when he worked to earn a living, but for some there is little to do and they feel like dying of boredom; they are as kings with time on their hands and no wars to fight, but the retired yachtsman looks forward to the new season when the days lengthen and he’ll be reunited with his yacht upon the oceans; meanwhile, his faithful vessel needs maintaining while he dreams of future adventures, and to make those a reality he studies the charts, the almanac and the tide tables. His imagination paints scenarios of luxuriant bays with sandy beaches, purple mountains forming far horizons; white horses skipping on the wave tops; green fields rolling to the sea shore and darkened glades running in valleys to the water’s edge; broad sand dunes and granite cliffs; muddy creeks; gulls, guillemots, plovers, Arctic skuas, heron, dunlin and even the perky puffin with his red, white and blue bill.

The retired yachtsman with time to spare is far richer than any king. He does not laze around with nothing to do; neither does he look for wars to relieve his boredom; instead, he dreams of fresh mackerel straight from the pan!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Vanity of the Sailor

Perhaps no other person in history could match the possessions of King Solomon who amassed a great fortune by inheriting a kingdom from his father, and by increasing his wealth through the receipt of taxes and by accepting gifts from many, including the Queen of Sheba. Solomon was not only revered for his possessions, but for his wisdom also. Without the latter it is doubtful he would have acquired his great material wealth. When not distracted by his many wives and concubines he found time to write exquisite poems and prose, some of which are recorded in the Bible, notably his Song of Songs, several Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

It is generally accepted that Solomon wrote the wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes when in his old age, and although this exceptionally gifted king was noted for his wisdom when he was a young man, his experience of life would have endowed him with a retrospective insight into the nature of life so as to draw from it a synthesis of quintessential moral and ethical values. If anyone could have done this, it undoubtedly would have been Solomon who had experienced so much.

To short-circuit the learning curve of gaining wisdom, it must make sense to study the words of Solomon, and if we examine Ecclesiastes we shall know of his conclusion to the purpose of life and the most apt conduct for us to adopt during our sojourn upon this planet. Such knowledge should give us a head start.

The word that crops up time and again throughout Ecclesiastes is ‘vanity’, and it has two meanings: the first is, ‘excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements’ and the other is, ‘the quality of being worthless or futile’. How to handle these aspects of vanity requires a certain amount of wisdom. Those who think highly of themselves and who place themselves on pedestals run the risk of falling, and those who believe they are worthless and that their efforts are futile, stand the chance of being victims of their lack of self-esteem. There needs to be a balance, but most importantly there should be a standard for judging one’s conduct and one should have a sense of direction in the pursuit of goals.

At the end of Ecclesiastes Solomon concludes, “Vanity of vanities ………… all is vanity,” and he further proclaims that the correct attitude for man’s conduct should be to “Fear God and keep His commandments.” How does this wisdom relate to the sailor? Surely if he is on the water for pleasure, his conduct is vain – or is it? Those who race across oceans, those who endeavour to break sailing records and those who explore the world by cruising their yachts, are they practitioners of vanity? They certainly are not - if they fear God and keep His commandments.