Monday, November 11, 2013

When My Ship Comes in

Some folks find this a bit strange, but I like to watch the comings and goings of commercial ships. Other people watch ball games; I prefer ships. I’ve always wanted more out of life than what sports could offer, and I’ve often turned to the sea in order to reach for the higher things of life. Living inland, it’s not always possible to spontaneously visit the waterfront. With the new technologies of the internet and harbor webcams, though, watching, if not actual visiting, has become easy and convenient. Thus on Sunday morning, October 27, 2013, I turned on my computer to watch my ship come in.

Peering into the darkness at 5:30am, I beheld the docks, the basin, and the inlet of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The adjacent satellite image of the port was dotted with markers identifying the vessels already moored. The passenger ships Allure of the Seas, Carnival Freedom, and Royal Princess had arrived early and occupied the largest berths. Two Dutch freighters, the Dijksgracht and the Spiegelgracht, appeared at the cargo docks. And three tankers, the OSG Navigator, the Hellas Endurance, and the Overseas Houston, filled out the picture at the petroleum piers. Still at sea about five miles from the inlet stood the star of the morning’s show, the Nieuw Amsterdam. She was the one I had logged on to watch.

The Nieuw Amsterdam was returning to the United States from Europe. She had spent the summer and early autumn in the Mediterranean, carrying sightseers to such exotic ports as Barcelona, Palermo, Marseilles, Tunis, and Napoli—places I had visited in my vagabond youth—as well as Istanbul, Corfu, Piraeus, Dubrovnik, and Monte Carlo—places I had missed. Now, after a transatlantic voyage of ten days’ duration from Cadiz with a stop in the Azores, the Nieuw Amsterdam was returning to Fort Lauderdale, her base of operations for the upcoming winter months.1 This was a special arrival, one not to be missed!

I watched the video on the computer screen intently. At 5:55am, having taken on a pilot at the sea buoy, the Nieuw Amsterdam entered the inlet. She came in slowly and gracefully, and at 6:00am was fully inside the basin. By 6:05am, using her twin azipod propellers and triple bow thrusters, she was gradually backing toward her berth. At 6:17am, the Nieuw Amsterdam was still backing down when her fleet mate Eurodam entered the inlet. Arriving from Canada with an intermediate stop in Port Canaveral, the Eurodam had hugged the Florida coast overnight and followed her sister to the pilot station and into port. At 6:20am the Eurodam was clear of the inlet, and two tugs and a pilot boat then started out to meet the incoming container ship CSAV Rupanco. At 6:21am the Nieuw Amsterdam was in position and being made fast at the same berth where my family and I had boarded her a year and a half ago. The Eurodam was by this time backing toward a berth diagonally opposite the Nieuw Amsterdam. At 6:36am she, too, was in position and being secured to the pier.

After spending the day discharging passengers, taking on food, fuel, and supplies, cleaning staterooms, and then embarking new passengers, the Nieuw Amsterdam and the other cruise ships would sail again, this time for Caribbean ports. Lots of folks in diverse locations, myself included, would watch these departures on their computers in the late afternoon. It would not the same as actually sailing, but an enjoyable and inexpensive substitute.

But for now, my ship had come in. Long used metaphorically to refer to some great fortune coming one’s way, the expression “when my ship comes in” expressed people’s dreams of doing better financially in an age when the general population was more aware of commercial shipping than it is today. Cargo ships had carried the riches of the Orient and the gold and silver of the Americas to Europe. When they arrived safely after these long and hazardous voyages, their owners became very wealthy men. It was a bonanza! But as in most businesses, these voyages made a few folks rich at the expense of many who did the grunt labor while living in squalor and risking their lives aboard primitive vessels sailing on largely uncharted seas. For most people, then, “when my ship comes in” remained more of a pipe dream than anything that would realistically happen.

Ships do come in and go out again, however. I’ve seen plenty of them come and go over the years. Whether for an hour or for many months, a ship becomes part of one’s life for a time and then is gone. When a passenger disembarks or a crewman is discharged, the ship on which he sailed recedes into his past. One’s association with it is thus only temporary. Another ship may take its place, but the new voyage or assignment will one day end, too, and the cycle repeats itself. Ships simply come and go, as does nearly everything else in life. Money, jobs, houses, vacations, holidays, and material possessions all come and go. Few things in life are truly permanent.

In my family, however, our ship has come in four times, or perhaps more accurately, four separate ships have come in. Taking the metaphor on a different course, these four ships are the James, the Steven, the Michael, and the flagship Miss Karen Elizabeth. These are my four children. They arrived at intervals over a period of six years, and like real ships they have come and gone from the family home many times. One has married, appropriately aboard a ship, and will in time be operating his own fleet. The others are well underway, too. But for all their departures from home to attend school, go scouting, visit grandparents, travel to college, and so on, they always were, are now, and always will be my children. The immutable laws of biology, the natural bonds of parent-child affection, and the temple ordinances of parent-child sealing work together to ensure that my children forever remain my children. They cannot be unborn or unsealed. God himself cannot change this, nor would he even want to, having authored the biology, the affection, and the ordinances that eternally bind us together.

Like a far-flung fleet of ships, our children have grown up and left home for distant places. They chart their own courses through life now, but they remain in contact with home via mail, email, telephone calls, text messaging, and now Skype, too. In an era when such telecommunication is available, the bonds between us command its use, for people who love each other naturally crave each other’s companionship despite distances.

The scriptures inform us of
the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fulness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents (D&C 138:48).
I think the redemption work for the dead is fairly well-known, but I suspect that the eternal parent-child connection may sometimes be overlooked in this age of high-powered, dual-career couples and professional day-care institutions. Miss Patty and I were very fortunate to have raised our children ourselves. It seemed like the natural thing to do, given our feelings for them. In this way the bonds between us were nurtured as well as sealed over the years. Now, distances notwithstanding, these bonds remain strong and ineradicable, family unity as our Creator intended it to be.

The commercial fleet in Port Everglades sailed again late Sunday afternoon and evening. My ship the Nieuw Amsterdam had come in, stayed about eleven hours, and then left again. As much as I may call her “my ship” for having made one voyage with her, she really isn’t. Owned by a major corporation, registered in a foreign country, and operated by other seamen, the Nieuw Amsterdam is not mine at all, and never has been nor ever will be. Like many ships before her, she came into my life and will eventually go out of it again. But the James, the Steven, the Michael, and the Miss Karen Elizabeth all came into my life to remain permanently and to be mine forever. They are the grandest fleet that any merchant seaman could ever want to sail with.

1 Voyage information for the Nieuw Amsterdam and the fourteen other ships of the Holland America Line comes from the company’s Cruise Atlas 2013-2014. This booklet contains full itineraries, maps, deck plans, photographs, and—alas!—prices.

1 comment:

  1. Pops. I'm so glad I took a break from writing essays to read this. I love it!!!