Parable of the Ships
Imagine for a moment the vast ocean.
Clear and blue.
Crystal and calm.
Imagine yourself gazing out upon this ocean of vast stillness.
Breathing deeply, you are calm and serene as you watch the waves roll across the surface.
For a time you gaze, watching, breathing, but then you see a speck on the horizon.
You breathe deeply, excited by the vision, and watch as the speck rolls its way towards you.
It comes from a long distance and draws towards you leisurely. You squint at it wondering what it is. Soon enough the outline becomes clear and you see that it is an ocean liner, a passenger ship, steaming towards you.
It continues to approach and as it does you see, it is not just any passenger ship.
Even from a distance you sense its magnificence.
The curve of the hull.
The silhouette of the multiple smoke stacks.
You watch it approach in great anticipation but as it gets close, your anticipation turns to disbelief and shock. You can see, there’s something wrong here.
This ship is far from magnificent. It is decrepit, rusted, run down and dilapidated.
It is banged up, crusted with gunk, and rusted so bad that holes are appearing in the hull.
As you gaze at the ship in horror you think to yourself, “it is so bad that it must surely be in danger of sinking” and sure enough, as your eyes dart to the water line you notice, the ship is going down.
It’s at this point that the original excitement you felt evaporates.
Fear overtakes you.
With a feeling of grave danger you wonder, “are there any people on this ship.” You gaze at the deck and sure enough there’s people standing on it.
“At least ten thousand,” you think to yourself, “maybe many more.”
Your heart skips a beat.
You wonder how they are handling their sinking ship.
You whisper to yourself, “what are they doing to avert disaster.”
You focus on their faces and become confused.
“My God,” you exclaim, “they are smiling, laughing, eating, and drinking.”
“They are having a party!” you realize as your eyes widen in horror.
“This can’t be true,” you cry.
“Can they not see their ship is sinking?”
“Do they not care they will drown in the ocean?”
You squint at the deck, looking for some explanation and then your heart quakes with fear.
There are children on the deck.
And lots of them.
“Oh my god,” you say as your consciousness leaps ahead to the time when the ship sinks and the children drown.
The thought of it brings tears to your eyes.
You cough and choke.
You brace yourself for the end but then just as despair threatens to overwhelm you, you notice, for the first time, another ship following not far behind.
You take a deep breath.
“Could it be?” you say.
“Is there hope?”
You turn your gaze to the new ship. At first, and from a distance, it looks much like the old ship. For a moment you die inside thinking about the possibility of another disaster but then, as it approaches, you see it is not like the first ship at all. Unlike the first ship, this one is not run down and dilapidated. On the contrary, this one looks brand new, just out of the docks. It is shiny, bedazzling, and glorious with brilliant and elaborate gold trim.
What a glorious and wondrous sight it is, and lucky for those on board. As you think this, your gaze travels to the decks of the new ship where you expect to see people laughing and enjoying themselves but, to your surprise, you find no one.
You peer into the portholes.
You scan down the hallways.
You wonder, who is steering the ship?
Your eyes scan forward, looking for the bridge of the new ship and when you find it, you peer inside and sure enough there’s a helmsmen, a captain, and a few others but besides this small crew, there appears to be nobody else on the ship.
“Curious, but fortunate,” you think as the fear begins to evaporate from your body.
Here is another ship that is big enough to accommodate all the passengers of the old ship in splendor and luxury. And what’s even better, the captain of the new ship seems fully apprised of the situation. As you peer into the bridge you can see he is gesticulating wildly, pointing at the old ship in front of him, and giving orders to those around him.
A feeling of relief floods through your body. You watch as the gesticulating captain bolts out of the bridge and down onto the deck below with megaphone in one hand and a flair gun in the other. He runs forward to the tip of his ship, waits until his vessel is as close as possible, and then begins firing his flair gun but the revelers don’t notice right away. The captain becomes more agitated. He looks confused, but he keeps firing his flares and shouting through his megaphone until finally a few individuals standing in the stern of the old ship look up and see him jumping up and down, gesticulating, and pointing down at the hull of their ship.
“There’s another ship,” they exclaim. They jump in greeting and watch the captain jump around. Most of them smile turn back to the party right away but a couple of them sense the captain’s agitation. They break away from the group and walk towards the railing. When they get there, they look down at the hull of their ship where the other captain is pointing.
Their eyes widen in horror.
Like people waking up from a dream in a house that’s on fire, they finally see the danger.
Their ship is sinking and if they don’t do something right now, they are going to die.
They gasp for air.
They look at each other.
They fight the panic that threatens to overwhelm their reason.
They take a few deep breaths.
They assess the situation.
“There’re lifeboats on this ship, and there’s another ship close by,” one says.
“Everything is going to be ok.”
“We just have to find the captain of our ship,” they exclaim and as they realize this, they bolt towards the front of their sinking vessel. They run as fast as they can, climbing stairs to the bridge finally they burst through the bridge doors and find, to their utter horror, an empty room.
Their mouths drop to the floor.
“Where’s the captain?” they gasp.
“Where’s the crew?”
They pause for a few moments, turning in dazed circles, before they stop, look at each other, and bolt out of the room.
“We have to find the captain,” they exclaim as they dash down towards the decks. Thankfully, it doesn’t take them long. After only a few moments of searching, they find the captain lounging around at the bow of the boat, surrounded by a big crowd.
They run up and try to talk with him.
They notice he’s drunk.
They begin shaking and slapping him.
He struggles under the blows for a moment and then abruptly finds his composure and brushes them away.
“What is the meaning of this,” he bellows.
The two who were hitting him point to the railing. In disgust the captain walks over to the railing, sees the new ship, looks at her captain, looks at his hull, and quietly turns pale as a ghost. He looks over at the captain who, seeing he has succeeded in getting the attention of the other captain, is already running back to his own bridge to stop his ship. The captain of the old ship understands immediately. He turns to the other two and says “we can’t use the lifeboats unless we stop the ship.” You watch as the captain of the sinking ship bolts back to the bridge. He bursts into the room and gives the order. He stands there for a moment, waiting to be sure the ship is slowing, then runs back down to the deck to the nearest lifeboat and begins tugging at the people around it.
“Wake up!” he says, “the ship is sinking.”
He, and the two who originally woke him, begin to shout and shake people’s shoulders, but to no avail. The people on the sinking ship simply aren’t listening. In fact, they don’t seem to care and what’s worse, they seem to be resisting. In fact, the more agitated the captain gets, the louder the panicky calls to awaken become, the more resistance there is.
But the captain and the others don’t give up.
They don’t stop trying.
How can they?
The ship is sinking and besides, they can see that the captain of the newer ship has already stopped his vessel and has lowered all his lifeboats.
Everything is ready. If they can just get these people to wake up, everything will be ok.
And so, they keep trying.
Desperately they run from group to group trying to wake people up, trying to get them to notice.
They grow weary of pushing through crowds and tired of all the resistance, but they stick at it and they do make progress. A few people here and there wake up and realize their ship is sinking.
Their reaction is predictable.
When they finally see the state of their ship, when they finally realize that the ship is sinking and there is nothing they can do, they start to panic.
Their faces turn white.
Some scream, some grasp at their families, some begin weeping, and some snap under the fear and lose control, but in most cases the disorientation and panic doesn’t last long. The captain and his crew are standing by reassuring everyone, pointing to the lifeboats, and repeating over and over again “there’s enough time to save everyone.” The message slowly gets through to them. They’re scared, and they know there’s a danger, but as they see the truth of the situation, as they see the lifeboats in the water and the captain of the new ship waiting to take them aboard, a calmness passes over them and a few begin orderly movement towards the lifeboats. Curiously however, you can see that most of the people who wake up do not immediately begin moving to the lifeboats. In fact, even though they have the opportunity, most stay to behind to help.
You can see why immediately.
They have family, after all, and friends.
They have a responsibility and they want to help, and that’s great because there are thousands of people on the old ship still oblivious to the reality of their impending doom, so all help is appreciated.
Unfortunately, even with a growing army of determined passengers, it is slow going.
People continue to resist and lash out.
Still, the work goes doggedly on until finally “it” happens.
Finally, the old ship has sunk so low in the water that its deck is now at water level. Now, the bow of the boat dips gently below the waves and water comes splashing up onto the deck. When that happens, things change dramatically. Like a little emotional atom bomb suddenly pushed into chain reaction, the sudden and ship-wide realization of imminent disaster sends energetic ripples cascading throughout the sinking ship as it literally explodes with fear.
Standing back from ship you can sense how momentous it is.
The energy from the fear is raw and potent, like nothing you’ve ever experienced before and you are certain, as the raw energy of the fear blasts past you, that it will spell doom for those on the ship.
There will be mass panic and collapse.
Once again you look over at the ship expecting to see chaos, but are surprised to find none. You ask yourself, “how can this be?” and then you see the reason. Not only do lifeboats from the new ship totally surround the sinking old ship, but no sooner do people wake up and panic than there is somebody there to calm them and direct them to the nearest boat. You can feel the energetic ripple of fear, but the energy never manifests into the descending spiral of panic and chaos that you expect. The ubiquitous lifeboats, and the kind hearted individuals who stayed behind, ensure that all the passengers from the old boat are safely transported to the new. Time passes and the rescue operations continue. Finally, as you watch, the last of the survivors are lifted to the new ship. They stand on the deck watching the now empty and derelict ship silently sink beneath the waves.
There is deep sadness at the losses, but also serenity and joy. The ordeal is over. A new journey, and a new world, lies before them.
Copyright 2008 Michael Sharp. All rights reserved