Very old photographs are like time machines, transporting you to an era that has long vanished. Looking at them makes you imagine what it was like to live back then. But some vintage pictures, like the following photographs of islands, can do more than take you on a journey to lost time. They can unmoor certain thoughts. Suddenly, sometimes almost instinctively, you find yourself contemplating upon life and the human condition.
A harbour is often thought of as a place bustling with maritime commerce. The Britannica definition of the term reminds us of its primary function: “any part of a body of water and the manmade structures surrounding it that sufficiently shelters a vessel from wind, waves, and currents, enabling safe anchorage or the discharge and loading of cargo and passengers.”
“I take it that what all men are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace,” wrote Joseph Conrad in his 1911 novel, Under Western Eyes. How true! Yet how difficult to achieve. Like the sea waves crashing against the rocks, life is an unceasing struggle: of man vs. nature; of man vs. man; and sometimes, of man vs. himself.
What gives rise to the exploitation of seafarers? Is it greed or lack of empathy? Is it 21st-century materialism? Is it the predatory infrastructure that has been built around the seafaring profession through so many maritime regulations? Surprisingly, the answer was provided by the Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.
Time, it is often said, changes everything.. This is not exactly true. As the following pairs of maritime photographs show, some things change dramatically after the lapse of many years and others, little or not at all. The American-British poet T.S. Eliot was right. “Time the destroyer is time the preserver.” he wrote in The Dry Salvages, the third poem of his famous Four Quartets.
My dream project has always been to write a new code of conduct for seafarers — a credo that would lay down for them a path to self-realisation and a way of life, something similar to the Bushido of the samurai warriors. I am slowly working on it. This undertaking will take some time to finish. Meanwhile, let me share some words of wisdom from Confucius. Although the latter lived more than 2,000 years ago, his teachings should resonate with today’s ship officers and other merchant marine professionals.
What commodity could be more precious than time? A person can amass wealth if he is smart enough like Microsoft kingpin Bill Gates or Chinese billionaire Jack Ma of the Alibaba Group. But who can accumulate time? There is only so much of it allotted to every human being. Ironically, many fritter away their time posting selfies on social media, watching inane TV shows, or engaging in pointless political debate. I trust that the following quotes, together with some artworks, will serve as food for thought about the value and nature of time and about life itself.
“Young man, be not forgetful of prayer,” wrote Fyodor Dostoevsky in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. “Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” Not everyone believes in the power of prayer. But for those who do, here are five prayers that may give seafarers the fresh courage to face difficult times.
They say a vaccine will vanquish the coronavirus. Maybe so, but the war against this invisible enemy will be won, not by the tools of science alone, but by the strength and resilience of the human spirit. The following works of art and accompanying quotes highlight the importance of inner peace in these troubled times. I hope they provide inspiration to those who are feeling distressed and perhaps even hopeless because of the pandemic.
Almost a century has passed since Max Ehrmann, an American writer and lawyer from Indiana, wrote his 1927 prose poem ‘Desiderata’ (Latin word meaning “things that are needed or wanted”). Many who were college students during the heady 1960s will remember the opening line, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…” and the immortal phrase “you are a child of the universe”. Ehrmann’s words still ring true today. Not only do they inspire. They also offer bits of practical wisdom, a philosophy of life, that seafarers and others can live by during these tumultous times. Here is the complete original text, followed by two video clips (in English and Spanish) of ‘Desiderata’ read aloud.
The Tao Te Ching is a jewel of a book ascribed to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (6th century BC). It offers precious insights into Taoism, its central concept of the Tao, and a way of life marked by harmony and tranquility. But there’s another good reason for reading this classic text: it is rich in poetic metaphors.