Of Winds and Currents
In the muck of a shallow river a very large rock lies half buried. Dark in color, its surface has been smoothed by eons of erosion. Icey water swiftly washes over its mottled surface while the water-weed that clings to it, waves in its eddy like the tail of a kite. Coated in a translucent green film the rock has been there for a very long time. The rock had no say in its journey to the river. Born from the depths of the earth and lifted by the upheavals of shifting continents and earthquakes, it has been carried by glaciers and shaped by the elements. The rock has seen the birth of a thousand new species and witnessed their eventual extinction. If only our friend, the rock could speak I am certain we would hear some amazing tales, yet none would have been of its own doing.
During the golden age of sail through the late 19th century tall ships plied the oceans. The greatest of these were the clipper ships. Majestic vessels, they were built for speed and long voyages. Some measuring two hundred feet or more in length and rated at nearly one thousand tons. The sleek lines of their hulls would inflect inward toward the bow and curve sharply up from the water line to form the prow. This design allowed the clippers to cut through the seas. Giant masts measuring more than three feet in diameter towered skyward well over one hundred feet above the deck. Crosstrees were filled with billowing canvas of white to harness the power of the wind. One of these majestic vessels, with all sails set and tearing through the sea, inspired awe in all who witnessed it. These great vessels were commanded by a rare breed of men. Men who were masters of their trade and their destiny.
Set upon the sea without a commander to guide it or crew to man it, a ship would be at the mercy of the elements. Little more than a great drifting hulk it would be carried by the currents and pushed by the winds. Eventually succumbing to the forces of nature it would sink to the bottom of the ocean and become as the rock in the river, a mere witness to the world. In the hands of a skilled master, however, these magnificent vessels could take on incredible voyages, sails angled before the wind and a firm hand upon the wheel, their course would be set. The forces of nature would try to have their way, storms blowing them off course or the doldrums holding them in the tropical heat. But storms would pass, and an eventual puff of wind would bring the doldrums to an end. Through it all the master guided his ship and crew creating the story of their life at sea as they traveled the world’s oceans.
I was a firefighter, and that became the totality of me. Completely caught up in the camaraderie, training, trucks, gear and excitement, I lived and breathed firefighting. It became my identity, the face I put on for the world. While it is true that being a firefighter is what I did, I identified with it so closely it became who I was. Driving the big red truck with lights flashing and sirens wailing was exhilarating. There was something exceptional about responding to a call, knowing what to do and doing it. I took pride in restoring some sense of order to the chaos and crisis of the moment. The immeasurable rewards to one’s self esteem in helping others also feeds a bravado that is best kept in check by humility. My ego loved the reaction from people when they found out what I did. However, at some point along the line I felt a strong need to change direction. While I truly loved the fire service and still identify closely with it to this day, it was time to write the next chapter in my story and move on. The conversation with me and behind my back was, “Is he crazy? He’s a Captain and has it made. I can’t believe he’s walking away from it.”
We pen the story of our life through the choices we make. Some seemingly small and insignificant while others may have a tremendous impact on us and those we hold closest. When I realized that I had turned over the pen, allowing the fire department to define me and write my story, I knew it was time for a change. An inner voice called to me to let go and experience life in a different way. It was telling me to explore the world on a voyage of self-discovery. This was not an easy decision to make. I knew that there were those who would not understand and be disappointed in my choice. There was also a strong sense of security in working for the town as well as a pride in accomplishment in becoming a Captain. Staring an uncertain future in the face, I took control of the pen and began writing my next chapter, setting down a new course to follow.
Since I made that choice so many years ago, I have written and experienced a life full of adventure and love. Together my wife and I raised our son who has become a good man and is now writing his own story. We have traveled to many places in this wondrous world meeting some amazing and interesting people. I have worked closely with some of our most elite troops in supporting their mission. It has been an incredible story to live and to write and would not have been if I had not chosen to take the pen in hand.
Everyone has a story. How do we want ours to be written? Do we allow the winds and currents of life to dictate our course and fill our pages like the rock, as only a witness to life? Or do we take the wheel and set a course toward exploring all that life has to offer? The seemingly safe path is to let life happen to us, to lay at the bottom of the river dreaming of what might have been. To fully write our own story brings with it rewards of the spirit that cannot be measured by the car in the garage or the latest and greatest widgets on a screen. With pen in hand we can author a life story rich in adventures and with eyes wide open delve into the deeper questions of our existence. We become empowered through looking within and trusting our heart for guidance as we choose between the many opportunities life presents us. When the time to write the final chapter comes, we can do so confidently and without regrets, knowing we have lived a good and full life and are prepared for the journey that awaits us.
William C. Judge 2018