Most people who know me are aware that between 1991 and 2010 I worked on cruise ships. In fact, on April 4, 2020, I will celebrate 10 years since disembarking my last ship, the Disney Wonder. In the midst of a global pandemic that emerged in part among passengers and crew on several cruise ships, my heart goes out to the thousands of people whose lives and livelihoods have been thrown into disarray by the suspending of cruises worldwide. Many of these people make great sacrifice of time and distance from their families in order to collect the hard earned wages of shipboard life. I will always have a tremendous feeling of solidarity with my fellow and former crew mates. It is amazing work but it is also incredibly hard. Today, as an ordained minister, I find it ironic and oddly comforting to draw on some of the unique training and life experience that were afforded me in that remarkable and exotic setting.
The highest rank that I achieved was Cruise Director which depending on the ship and the line meant that I was either a three or four stripe officer. Although I did not have equal rank to the Captain or Chief Engineer, my job was no less important. Beyond playing games and hosting parties and telling jokes on stage every night, my job was to be the voice of the ship and more crucially the voice of the ship in an emergency. I needed to know how to communicate clearly and as calmly as possible. I had to be able to work collaboratively under sometimes erratic situations. I had to know how to give and receive orders and I had to know how to listen to people and superiors who might be reacting out of panic and anxiety. I had to be able to engender trust and project calm.
Today as I consider how we are moving forward with our communities through the spread of the coronavirus, I draw on the training that prepared me for a potential mass evacuation at sea of up to 4000 people; or if the 94K ton ship ran aground or caught on fire; or if more than 50% of the shipboard passengers and crew became sick with norovirus stranding us at sea and a whole host of other kinds of disasters.
If we get mired in the anxiety of anticipating what might happen…we will become distracted and bogged down.
I took many lessons away from my shipboard training. I learned that over communication can be as bad or worse than under communicating. I learned that the people who are directly impacted by disaster know best what they need. I learned that I can’t solve every problem or answer every question. I learned that honesty is the only communication that matters in an emergency and that simplicity will always win the day. And the biggest lesson I took away from all of my training for safety of life at sea was to remember the primary goal: save life. No matter what it took, each life needed to be considered essential and important and every effort needed to be extended to try to preserve that life. I think the lesson in this moment is similar in that we must keep focused on a goal. We cannot get distracted. If we get mired in the anxiety of anticipating what might happen or caught up in political wrangling, we will become distracted and bogged down. We risk our own safety if we lose track of our goal.
Certainly, a significant and specific part of the goal today in the midst of coronavirus is the same one that we had at sea…save life. But I think there is more at stake here. We are in the midst of a vicious and bitter political election. Our government is paralyzed by division. Our communities are suspicious of each other. There is little trust in the news and the wider world around us. Poverty, marginalization and erasure of whole populations have become rampant norms to which we have become numb. Our mission in this moment therefore is far greater than just beating coronavirus. I believe that if we are to achieve the goal of ultimately saving life from the disease, we must first remember an even bigger goal: being whole. Being whole as a human race that is capable of recognizing each other, knowing each other as divine and precious and caring enough to try to preserve everyone who is at risk. And let me be clear, being whole doesn’t mean being the same…in fact it is the opposite. Being whole is having the space, the autonomy and the integrity to be totally and humanly different together. This virus sees no race, ability, immigration status, gender, sexuality or political party. The virus sees us as one whole human body and it wants to take over. Therefore, in order to win this fight, we must first recognize some kind of unity between us in order to join ranks. We cannot hoard resources or resist solutions because of where they originate. We cannot monetize or commodify cures and vaccines with an eye to financial gain. Our human wholeness is our most precious prize and our most bankable profit in and of itself.
We are all on this ship together. I want to invite you to consider how each of us holds some responsibility for the safety of our shared life as humans on this voyage. Let us find enough clarity in our minds and charity in our hearts to desire each other as co-beings…shipmates in this life and on this delicate vessel called Earth. If we ignore the ultimate goal, that of being whole and united in our humanity, this virus, not to mention our own self-destructive tendencies, could truly signal the end of life as we know it.