A Lesson About Sinking Ships

Last night I had a dream about a ship that had capsized.

Naturally, all hell broke loose. Some people were making mad grabs for their things, which were still floating around in the water but sinking quickly, soon to be out of reach. Some of them were simply dumbfounded as to what to do next. Some fervently started swimming to shore.

In the meantime, unbeknownst to the rest of the group, someone had strapped a bomb to their chest and was swimming into the depths of the ocean, as far as they could go. From what I can gather, they had found a bomb on the ship that couldn’t be defused, and so they had strapped it to themselves and were taking it someplace where it couldn’t do permanent harm to anyone on the ship.

When the bomb went off underwater, everyone was shocked. The ones who were busy trying to gather up their things took what they could and started dragging it off in any direction. The ones who were too dumbfounded to move suddenly had to decide whether they were going to attempt to pull anything from the rubble or swim to shore. The ones who had decided to bail were the least affected, since they were far enough off that it simply gave them confirmation they’d done the right thing in swimming away.

Here’s where I get into how as humans, we can allow hardships to hold us back or push us forward. Sometimes we find ourselves on a sinking ship, with all of our belongings scattered and sinking into the ocean. In that moment, we have a choice. Try to hold onto what we can and risk life and limb for what once was, or let it go and move on.

The absence of choice is hardly an option. Getting hung up on the catastrophe itself and standing still out of sheer shock doesn’t get us anywhere. You can only tread water for so long. Sooner or later, you have to make a decision or risk going down with the ship.

So then we come to the actual choice at hand. In life, when we hit an obstacle and the ship starts sinking, what do we do? Do we try to piece together what’s left of our shattered lives, or do we accept that the course we were on is no longer viable and move on?

In this particular situation, it was evident that the people trying to piece together their old life were doing so in vain. The ship was completely decimated. The people focused on gathering up their belongings had nowhere to put them. In the ship they may have had space for such things, but now they didn’t. I watched as people started dragging away objects that would only weigh them down. They weren’t focused on where they were going. The objects they managed to salvage belonged to a room that no longer existed. What good is a lamp without an outlet to plug it into?

So often I feel like we fear change because we don’t know what’s next. Who knows what’s lurking on the island nearby? There could be monkeys, hostile villagers, even dinosaurs. The likelihood of the latter is slim, but who knows for certain? Most people would rather cling to the memory of a certain past than embrace an uncertain future. But when we try to cling to something that is quite clearly gone forever, we lose out on whatever that uncertain future has to offer.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t fight for what you love, but there’s something to be said about being able to recognize a lost cause. Let me reiterate my earlier point. What good is a lamp without an outlet to plug it into? If the ship goes down, the environment in which the lamp thrived is gone too. Likewise, a light bulb without a source of electricity is simply a piece of glass, metal, and filament. Sure, that lamp may have lit up a dark room at one point in time, but it needed the necessary environment to do that.

Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of something that isn’t working for you anymore. You may be left with a lamp, but no light bulb, or a light bulb, but no lamp. You may have a lamp and a light bulb, but no outlet to plug it into. Either way, that lamp isn’t lighting up a room anymore.

Continuing with the lamp analogy, the lamp served its purpose. When we find something (or someone) that brought light to a dark space in our lives, it’s natural to want to cling to it. When the bulb burns out or the ship goes down, it’s natural to miss that light, or even to miss the dark room in which the lamp resided. Change isn’t easy and the future isn’t certain. Sometimes the course we’re on seems steady, the ocean is calm, not a cloud in sight, and suddenly we hit an iceberg out of nowhere.

Sometimes it can be beneficial to take something with you when a ship capsizes. I’m sure there were any number of tools on that ship that would aid survivors who swam to shore on the island nearby. I feel like the best option in that situation would be to take a moment, look around, gather any valuable tools you come across, and then swim to shore.

I suppose tools in this instance are a metaphor for lessons. I believe that valuable lessons can be gleaned from any situation if we aren’t so hung up on the catastrophe that we forget to look for them. Likewise, I believe that most situations have a silver lining if we care to look hard enough. Sure, a shipwreck is a tragedy. When tragedy strikes in life we can choose to dwell on the tragedy or we can choose to see the hidden blessing. In my dream, all but one person survived and the one person who didn’t make it chose to sacrifice themselves for the rest. That is a beautiful thing. Self-sacrifice is another topic entirely that I’m not going to touch on here, but in this instance, it was a noble thing to do. That person could have easily ignored the bomb, swam to shore, and left the other survivors to die. Instead they decided to set aside their own selfish desires for the greater good.

Life is full of blessings and catastrophes. Sometimes what looks like a blessing now will turn into a catastrophe later and sometimes what looks like a catastrophe will turn into a blessing. Regardless of the ups and downs life has to offer, one thing is for certain. How we choose to act in those moments makes all the difference. Do we allow ourselves to be weighed down with something that may have served us well in the past, but no longer does? Do we wait for an explosion to force us out of our shell-shocked state? Do we flee to shore in order to avoid further damage? Do we decide to look for tools among the rubble and use them to our advantage?

How we choose to live our lives is up to us. The only certainty in life is that life is that life is full of uncertainties. We aren’t defined by the moments that bring us to our knees, but how we react to them.

A stroke of inspiration (pun intended) based on personal experience, helping lift people up by understanding they’re not alone and their experience is valid.

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