Cruisin’ the Life

Cruisin’ the Life

Only a week after I stepped off the Carnival Freedom, the Carnival’s Mediterranean line, Costa, provided  hours of TV news with the spectacular sinking of its cruise ship, Concordia, including loss of life, missing passengers or crew, and surely for some of the survivors at least, a certain loss of faith in life’s advertised certainties. For truly, what could be safer, possibly to the point of boredom, than a cruise ship? The last thought on my mind as we walked up the Freedom’s gangway, crossing over from land to the world of the ocean and these behemoths that ply them, was a concern for my personal safety. At the time, overeating seemed my biggest health risk.

Whereas the Concordia failed to rehearse the life boat procedures, our ship, the Freedom, held muster almost immediately, before we sailed into open waters. But it occurred to me, even at the time, that should we ever face an emergency, we’d be in serious trouble: no one yet knew where their muster station was and when we were directed to the correct place in front of our lifeboat, we were lined up against the deck’s wall, with later arrivals added in front of us, and still later arrivals in front of them, like a seven layer cake. Maybe there’s a different operating system in a real emergency, but human nature being what it is, surely panic would have set in if the ship were sinking; it is not likely that we passengers would docily line up, waiting for others to take their places in the lifeboats. True, there are always acts of heroism as there were on the Titanic and apparently on the Concordia, but by and large, the ship’s crew isn’t going to have the luxury of half an hour to tidily assemble the terrified passengers of a listing ship.

In contrast to the Concordia’s passengers in full-emergency muster, desperately trying to board tilting lifeboats or scale ropes down slanting sides to escape the ship into the waiting waters, we mustered impatiently, lining up as mere exercise and eagerly awaiting our dismissal so that we could get back to the Lido deck and some serious eating, never once conceiving the thought that this could be real, that in a week, for 4,000 plus souls, it would indeed be real.

I wonder if the musters on cruise ships the day following the Costa disaster were a little more somber, with fewer thoughts of food and more on how to survive now that the unthinkable was all too thinkable.

Near misses are the reminders of life’s irony and fragility; the old adage advises, “There but the grace of God go I.” All that separates us from disaster is a left turn when we should have gone right – taking flight 901 instead of flight 109, leaving at 3:00 instead of 2:59:

In 1989, I took my family on a special vacation to California. After sleeping under the shelter of the mountains in Yosemite, we drove along the Rockies, crossing over the spectacular Oakland Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Weeks later, back home, we watched the news clips showing the crushed cars as the top tier of the Oakland bridge collapsed on top of the bottom tier and the entire bridge split in the San Francisco earthquake. As they say, “Timing is everything.”

There is the old story of the man who tried to escape his revealed destiny, that Death was stalking him, by fleeing to a different city. When he arrived, he found Death waiting there for him, asking, “What took you so long to arrive?”

If we can’t flee, and we can’t know in advance which direction to turn or when to leave, we either hide, ostrich-like, our heads in the sand, or we get on with our lives, trying to find meaning and joy whenever and wherever we can.

And if we get to drink from the glass of fortune, we need to give thanks for that good fortune, never to take it for granted. And we need to extend a hand to those needing our help, out of common decency, and against the time when we also might zig when we should have zagged: against the time when the odds catch up with us and it’s our turn.