I believe in the changing wind, how it feels against my face, cool and damp and refreshing. I know when I feel that certain wind that the weather is going to change. I know it just as I know I changed while feeling it standing at the bow of a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
From the changing wind I learned how to find a sense of inner-understanding and self- awareness through the taking of its fury, no matter how it hard it raged or how long it lasted or how death-threatening it seemed to be. I learned to face the wind.
At age nineteen, disconsolate and adrift, I left home for the first time in my life and went to sea as a merchant seaman. When I returned almost a year later, I was maybe not quite yet a man but I was certainly no longer a boy. At sea I learned about life and also about death but mostly I learned about finishing what I’d started.
Knees flexed for balance, night after night I rode the nose of the ship in the rising and falling rhythms of the ocean’s waves, tasting the salt water and feeling its spray in my face, my hair blowing in the wind.
I watched and became one with the dolphins that swam alongside, joyfully jumping over and through the wave the ships’ bow cut in the water. I looked down at the phosphorescence and imagined it as white jewels sparkling against the green of the ocean.
Looking up into the night I could see primary, secondary and tertiary stars spread out like diamonds on black velvet. Shooting stars streaked across the sky, their trails much like the phosphorescence below me fading away in the night just as it was from the bows’ wave.
Many times I stood there, transfixed, not looking for any obstructions in the path of the ship in the middle of the ocean, but standing in awe of the vastness all around me. The ship, over 400 feet long, was tiny and insignificant in comparison. When the wind changed and the weather worsened, sometimes to hurricane force, I understood how easy it was, in the maelstrom, to just give up and let the ocean’s depths claim another soul.
In those moments when I learned to sense the change, I learned that no matter how hard things got, no matter how crazy and out of control life became, I learned to not be a quitter. Just as the wind changed the weather for the worse, it also brought change for the better. Nothing stays the same forever.
The reality of riding out the storm also became a metaphor for growing up. I came to learn, standing on the bow of that ship, to believe in myself.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.