Short Fiction: What Kind of Boat Are You?

You can’t judge a boat by how she handles calm waters. Let her weather a storm or two and then see if she is worth shackling yourself to a debt you have no hope of ever repaying. No matter how splendid a boat looks, no matter how many women you believe it will entice to sleep with you, if the vessel cannot endure harsh seas, far better you wipe out your life savings on hair plugs and a convertible sports car. That’s what I plan for my midlife crisis, anyway.

People are like boats. “Why?” you might ask. “Because they have names? Because there are a lot of them? Because they don’t float so well after you put a hole in them?” No! People are like boats because you don’t know how good they are until they have been tested. Jeez Louise. After the first paragraph, I thought that answer would have been obvious. I’ll try to write more clearly.

We’ve had a pretty good run in the west these past sixty or seventy years. As good as any society in history, I would guess. We have plenty of food, dentistry has advanced, we can literally get into great bird-looking machines that carry us into the sky and can transport us to the other side of the world in LESS THAN A DAY. We can see a photograph immediately after it is taken, even our most modest houses are five-star luxury compared to anything from a hundred years ago, and, in general, slavery is considered unacceptable. Not too shabby. Most of us have never had to worry about where our next meal is coming from. Few of us have had to fight in a war. I don’t know anyone who has been compelled under torture to convert to a different faith. But all things, whether good or bad, must come to an end.

I suppose the warning signs were there. We rejected rigid moral guidelines and embraced “anything goes.” Where once we could trade punches and afterward shake hands, we now cower in fear of offending the permanently offended. We were so aimless and bored that we had to invent a thousand worthless entertainments to busy ourselves. And now, lost and blind and childish, where do we go? Do we sell our souls to escape reality? Do we bow down to every command? Do we betray our conscience, our friends, our families, for a temporary, miserable, unfulfilling acceptance? Or do we rediscover something worth dying for? Can we survive? Are we redeemable? Who will rise after us, and what will they think of us? Will we have to eat dogs?

I began with a boat analogy. I forgot about that. Maybe that is what people are like. We start out with a vague purpose and good intentions, but somewhere along the way we lose it. We get distracted. We don’t pay attention to where we came from or where we are headed, and before we know it, we find ourselves stuck with senseless garbage. I don’t know. I guess what I wanted to say is, if people are like boats, then be a good boat, a tough boat, the kind of boat that can, in the end, face scuttling with its bow held high.


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