Life. What hopeful word could be said of life? With its fruitless trials and Sisyphean toiling? Perhaps in childhood, there was a certain ephemeral joy in running and jumping and laughing with one's little friends. The novelty of it all. I can but dimly perceive the wistful memory of those days long passed.
Ask yourselves now, since the years have long eroded the pleasure we once felt as youths, what meager nub of joy remains?
Good friends, I will tell you: As for my life—this utter facade of an existence—there is but one sliver of happiness to be found, and it can be discovered only in the pages of children’s informational books depicting the cross-sections of ships, old and new.
Perhaps you believe me mad.
But think! Think now of the daily occupations of this world. Superficial pantomimes in the service of nothing, save the preservation of our meager livelihoods (if one could call them that, which one should not.) It is emails and voicemails. Staplers and laminate plastic. Meals entombed in tupperware and revitalized by radiation. Ugly! Shapeless. Ill-defined.
But a two-page spread of the British RMS Carpathia? Interior revealed, cleaved immaculately in twain as though by the saber of a God? Tiny, featureless sailors tending to steam-pistons as boiler workers labor in unison in the glowing bowels below? The engine room, a visual feast of ironworks and mechanical splendor? From rudder to masthead it is perfection. Absolute symphonic perfection! Purpose and intention to be found in every corner of that sleek machine.
What of that can be achieved in this threadbare reality? What is truly to be found in our relations to other human beings in this cheap song and dance we call modern living? Distance. Coldness. A disjointed milieu of clammy handshakes strained laughter, sporadic and timid attempts at lovemaking. Tepid. Uncouth. Disagreeable in every aspect.
But see here! Pay witness now to the majesty of the halved HMS Endeavor, gliding boldly over crashing waves towards the blue lagoons of Bora Bora! Preserved forever in this glossy 10″ x 8″ museum pamphlet. See the tiny captain at his cedar wood helm, embodying conviction itself, as his stalwart sailors dream in their sectioned bunks below. Though truly, what dream could surpass this indelible pencil-drawn ecstasy with which they are blessed?
I shudder to think what would become of me were I to turn this bisecting view upon myself. What would we find within this humble man? What lies just beneath my surface, hidden from sight, unstudied?
Rot! Bile! A garbled gnash of contradiction! A miserable pile of lies! Nonsense and consternation. That is the whole of man—a black clot of ego pierced through with doubt like a slain hog run through with a spear. Such is our nature. Alas and alack.
But when one gazes deeply into the unvarnished corridors of an Orion-class battleship? Traces the interlocking valves and ducts of polished brass and steel? Numbers the torpedoes lying inert beneath the mess hall? Fixes one's eye finally upon the galley cook, frozen in time as he stirs his pot of indistinct sailors gruel? This is to know a world of sublime order.
Here, you can almost smell the salt on the air, hear the boom of the starboard guns, feel the chilled winds of the Atlantic at your back. It is almost as though, instead of being asked to please leave the children's section of the library while weeping loudly over an overlarge book, you are setting sail for one of those islands which contain every conceivable geographical feature, choosing from any peninsula, archipelago, or isthmus you please.
I say to you if this is not Heaven, it is at least half of it.