Parable of the Ships

by Michael Sharp

Imagine for a moment the vast blue ocean, clear, crystal, and calm. Imagine yourself standing on a lookout, basking in the warm ocean breeze, and gazing out upon this ocean of vast stillness. Breathing deeply, you are calm and serene as you watch the waves roll across the glass 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, the size and the grandeur mark it as the reigning monarch of modern cruise ships.

Standing on the deck, soaking in the breeze, you watch it approach in great anticipation and with growing excitement but as it gets close your anticipation and excitement turns to shock and disbelief. As it gets close, you can see there’s something horribly wrong. Up close, you can see that this ship is far from magnificent. Up close you can see it is decrepit, rusted, run down banged up, crusted with gunk, dilapidated, 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 is at this point that the original anticipation and excitement totally evaporates and 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, people are standing, chatting, and milling about.

Your heart skips a beat.

You wonder to yourself, how are they are handling their sinking ship. What are they doing to avert disaster? You focus on their faces and become confused. “My God,” you exclaim, “they don’t know their ship is sinking.”

“Look at them”, you cry, “they are smiling, laughing, eating, and drinking.”

Slowly you realize, they are having a party.

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 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 ship 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 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. What is 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. You notice he carries a 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 to notify the revelers but oddly, they don’t seem to notice. Instead, and despite their sinking ship, the revelers continue to party.

The captain looks confused.

He becomes more agitated.

Don’t they see their ship is sinking, he thinks to himself.

Are they unaware of the danger?

Do they not care about the children?

Not giving up, 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.

They are surprised to see another ship so close but they are pleased to see it. They wave in greeting and watch the captain jump around. Not understanding why the captain is so agitated, and wanting to get back to their party, most of them smile, wave, and turn back to the party right away. But, a couple of them sense the captain’s agitation and keep their attention focused. 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 captain has been 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 do not 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 and they realize there is hope.

“There’re lifeboats on this ship, and there’s another ship close by,” one says.

“Everything is going to be ok,” says another.

“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, until finally they burst through the bridge doors where they find, to their utter horror and confusion, a totally empty bridge.

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 does not take them long. After only a few moments of searching, they find the captain surrounded by a big crowd of people, lounging around at the bow of the boat.

They run up and try to talk with him.

They notice he is 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 as he turns to look for security.

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 of the new boat who, seeing that the other captain is finally aware of the danger, 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 and then when he is satisfied he runs back down to the deck. He finds the two who originally alerted him and together they find the nearest lifeboat and they begin shouting and trying to shake up the “sleeping” people.

“Wake up, wake up, wake up!” they say, “the ship we’re on is sinking!!” Shocked they find their shouting and shaking has almost no effect. The people on the sinking ship simply aren’t listening. In fact, they don’t seem to care at all. 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 resistant they become. But, the captain and the others don’t give up. They do not 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; and of course, 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. 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.

You breathe a sigh of relief because people are slowly waking up and it looks like everything might be OK after all. Still, and quite curiously, 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 behind to help. It does not take you long to figure out why. They have family, friends, and children after all. They have a responsibility to others and they want to help; and that’s great because even though the exodus has begun, the vast majority of the people on the old ship are still oblivious to the reality of their impending doom, and they are still locked in their delusion party mode. That’s a problem because even with a growing army of determined workers it is slow going. People continue to ignore the warnings, resist, and lash out.

And that’s when you begin to worry again.

People are waking up, but they are not waking up fast enough. With a worried look on your face, you scan the water line and then that is when you notice that “it” has started to happen. Finally, the old ship has sunk so low in the water that its top 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, soaking the feet of the revelers. When that happens, when their feet begin to get wet, they can no longer ignore the situation. Pausing they look at the ship and they realize, finally, that something is terribly wrong. When that happens, when the collective realization of impending doom sweeps the ship, things change dramatically. Like a little emotional atom bomb pushed into chain reaction, the sudden and ship-wide realization of imminent disaster sends energetic ripples cascading throughout the sinking ship and 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 that it will spell doom for those on the ship.

You know exactly what is coming!

Fear will ascend to panic will ascend to horror, there will be mass panic, and the people will go down with the ship. As these thoughts flow through your head, you look over at the ship expecting to see chaos, but are surprised to find none. Instead, you see orderly movement and controlled evacuation. You ask yourself, “how can this be?” and then you see the reason. Not only do lifeboats from the new ship 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 still 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 kindhearted 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, just as the sun begins to set on the remains of the decrepit old ship, you see the last of the survivors lifted to the new ship. They stand on the deck watching the final moments of derelict old ship as it sinks silently beneath the waves. Peace, serenity, and joy wash over the people on the ship. You smile. Their ordeal is over. A new journey, and a new world, lies spread out before them on the beautiful, still glass ocean.