November 21. “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” (Publilius Syrus)
Since becoming interested in Lighthouses about 13 years ago, I have also come to enjoy reading tales of the high seas. Those based on real events fascinate me most. The stories of harrowing experiences in tremendous storms, some ending in tragedy, rivet me and keep me turning pages.
This year in particular I have been reading about stories of great storms on the Great Lakes. I read two books on the White Hurricane of 1913, and also another book on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. These are among the 5 or 6 total books I’ve read just this year that involve stormy tales of the high seas.
One thing common to all of these stories is the importance of keeping the ship pointed in the right direction when there is a storm. Sometimes it is the right thing to keep the bow pointed into the wind, other times a following wind is best. At no time do you want the waves to crash amidships because of the danger of being capsized. Turning when seas are churning is particularly difficult.
This quote speaks to me. When seas are calm, a light hand on the helm will keep the ship going in the right direction. Armed with charts and a compass, even the most basic sailor can keep things moving forward, avoiding shoals and other hazards. But, when the waves are crashing and the seas are high, it takes an experienced, strong, resourceful hand to guide the ship.
And isn’t that how life is as well? When things are good, it is easy to stay the course. When the world is cooperating with me I can keep to my plans to lose weight, to deliver on my objectives at work, to complete projects around the house, and to be the husband / father / friend that I strive to be. When life is good, the path is easy to maintain.
It is when times are tough, when the world seems to be conspiring against me, that I must constantly be alert at the helm. I must keep the sails trimmed, and keep a watchful eye on the compass. I must find the proper tack to get through the storm, while still keeping the ship of my life heading toward where I want to be.
Sometimes that means I must steer a path that would seem to be off course. Sometimes it is better to take a tack in one direction or another rather than trying to plow straight ahead. I might even need to turn back and head in the opposite direction for a while. Sure, I will lose some headway, but it might be better to do that and live to fight another day.
The truth is that life is rarely lived on completely calm seas, and when it is, that calm doesn’t last long. There are always crosswinds, rogue waves, shoals in the shallows, and a host of other hazards that must be navigated for me to reach where I want to ultimately be. It is then that I must be most vigilant on the helm.
One thing I learned in reading these stories is that when the seas are the roughest, that’s when all hands are needed to be active. The helm is never tended by a single person. The Captain is near, along with the First Mate, the helmsman, and so on. In life it is the same. I am not alone at the helm. My wife is at my side, fighting the waves with me. I have family and friends to help guide me as well. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and I get frightened by anyone who claims they do. I know that to weather the storms of life I must be willing to accept and seek help wherever it may be found.
Today my reflection is on the many people who have helped me steer the course of my life. I am thankful for these guides and all that they have helped me weather and accomplish.