Monday, December 5, 2011
The first time I heard the word “becalmed, “ I thought it sounded lovely; The image I had conjured was of a person so free of anxiety that they were without care or worry. It was during a high school SAT prep session that I discovered that I had misapprehended the word in its most common meaning.
According to Merriam-Webster, becalmed means
1 a : to keep motionless by lack of wind
b : to stop the progress of
2: to make calm : soothe
Sometime thereafter, I became enamored of the genre of books that demonstrate the remarkable ability of man’s spirit to overcome obstacles in the face of natural disasters and devastating calamities. Among my favorite accounts were those in which individuals show epic heroism and ingenuity in order to survive. While I had absolutely little doubt that I did not have the mettle to be as ingenious and resilient as these characters, I found inspiration in their bravery. Over the course of about a year, I read eight or nine biographies and fictional accounts dedicated to sea-faring adventures. These included works detailing the first solo Atlantic crossing in a thirty-foot sailboat trips around Cape Horn in the 1800’s and other briny tales. It was this passing acquaintance with things nautical that introduced me to the practical meaning of being becalmed. I read accounts of what transpired when crews were short on rations with no land in sight and the wind quit. For a frame of reference, think Mutiny on the Bounty. Or consider the book The Life of Pi that takes the reader aboard a boat in a lengthy narrative describing a becalmed sea. I have since learned that a wind that has been becalmed is as treacherous as an incessant one when it comes to humans’ psyches.
Books, practical experience and observation have led me to believe that we are neither as fragile nor as resilient as I once thought. It appears to me however, that sometimes, when one finds one’s momentum halted, that it may be best to take a lesson from sailors around the world. There will be times when the wind dies down and there will be nothing to do about that except to mend the sails, plan for the future, and wait for the wind.