“Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8-color boxes, but what you’re really looking for are the 64-color boxes with the sharpeners on the back. I fancy myself to be a 64-color box, though I’ve got a few missing. It’s ok though, because I’ve got some more vibrant colors like periwinkle at my disposal. I have a bit of a problem though in that I can only meet the 8-color boxes. Does anyone else have that problem? I mean there are so many different colors of life, of feeling, of articulation. So when I meet someone who’s an 8-color type, I’m like, “Hey girl, magenta!” and she’s like, “Oh, you mean purple!” and she goes off on her purple thing, and I’m like, “No – I want magenta!”
Words have power. Words may be the closest thing we humans will ever experience to actual magic. What else has the power to transport a person to Hogwarts or Narnia. To break a heart or heal it. To help cultivate new ideas. To comfort or destroy. From the beginning of time words have allowed us an endless opportunity to touch the stars.
I’ve always been captivated by words and literature. But for the last few months I’ve found myself fascinated with literary tattoos. I know that it may seem like a bizarre fascination but sometimes we can’t decided what captures our imagination and thoughts. I tried to figure out where it came from. I concluded that it is because I have slightly been considering getting a tattoo. Those who know me may be surprised by that statement. A few years ago I would have been too. But things change, people change, and old ways of thinking give way to new. Obviously people know the arguments both for and against tattoos so I won’t bore you with those. It is a choice that each person has to make for themselves. Who am I to judge what someone else decides to put on their body and vice versa. Unless it’s just plain stupid- looking at you Australia with all your arm sleeve tribal tattoos.
Quick side tangent: if you’ve never been to Australia it may be the most tattooed country in the world. It seems like every guy under 40 has at least 4 tattoos and the same with the girls. I started a running count of “girls that would be attractive if they didn’t have a gaint tattoo somewhere on their body” The count is currently at 327. Obviously I’m not anti-tattoos but if you saw some of them you’d pay for the removal yourself. Yesterday I noticed how the end of a guy’s mo-hawk reached to the nose of the GIANT OWL tattoo on the back of his neck. I can’t make this stuff up. But anyway, I digress.
The more I thought about it the more I realized that getting a tattoo is a two- fold problem. Firstly, you have to decide where on your body you are going to put it. Secondly, you have to decide what exactly you want on your body forever. I think this last point is where my fascination began. What could be so important to someone’s life or such a significant representation that they wanted a reminder for eternity. I began to think then about myself and what would I want on my body forever. Part of the answer seemed obvious, I love reading- books, quotes, poems, anything and everything. Therefore, the next logical step would be a literary tattoo. Yeah it could be contrived as nerdy, but I’m kind of nerdy.
One thing led to another and thanks to the black-hole called the internet I ended up on Tattoo Lit. This site has pages upon pages on people submitting their literary tattoos. A lot of those authors and famous quotes you’d expect can be found there but there are also phrases, poems, books, and quotes that I had never even heard of. And because I am who I am I found myself constantly researching the context for a lot of these tattoos.
One of the ones I kept coming across was the world timshel. As I read the word it meant nothing to me. I didn’t even know if I was pronouncing it correctly. Regardless, I did what any other person in 2013 would do when they wanted to answer a question, I googled it. Turns out that one word opened quite the rabbit hole for me.
The word Timshel was brought to most people’s attention by John Steinbeck in his novel East of Eden. Timshel is a Hebrew word that translates to “Thou Mayest.” Why does this matter? Why should you care about “thou mayest?” Why have I decided to dedicate entire blog post to this concept? Let me first put timshel into its proper context. Below I have taken the relevant part from East of Eden applying to Timshel– both concept and context. In his book, Steinbeck writes:
“Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?” “I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.” “Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.” Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said. Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made.”…..
“After two years we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek.” Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”
“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.
Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”
“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. And do you know, those old gentlemen who were sliding gently down to death are too interested to die now?”
Adam said, “Do you mean these Chinese men believe the Old Testament?”
Lee said, “These old men believe a true story, and they know a true story when they hear it. They are critics of truth. They know that these sixteen verses are a history of humankind in any age or culture or race. They do not believe a man writes fifteen and three-quarter verses of truth and tells a lie with one verb. Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.”
Adam said, “I don’t see how you could cook and raise the boys and take care of me and still do all this.”
“Neither do I,” said Lee. “But I take my two pipes in the afternoon, no more and no less, like the elders. And I feel that I am a man. And I feel that a man is a very importannt thing—maybe more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because “Thou mayest.’”
In short, Timshel gives people a choice on how to live their life. This choice is what gives life value. Those that believe in predetermination or destiny may find this concept disconcerting maybe even absurd. They relish in the fact that things are already decided for them regardless of their actions. But for those of us who believe that our actions actually matter this idea is imperative. If the way is open then you can both succeed or fail. That option is what makes life special. The risk. The choice. The ability to triumph or fail on your own. Not because something has to be one way or the other but because in the end you made a choice for better or worse.
Personally, I love the line “But I have a new love for the glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because “thou mayest.” I love the idea that we are never destroyed or fully broken. There is no ‘life ending mistake’ because as it turns out life is a pretty resilient thing. Regardless of what we experience in our lifetime we are only as broke and damaged as we choose to be. We can be overwhelmed but we always have another choice coming and we get to choose whether to stay besieged by the problem or to rise above it.
I can see why people choose to tattoo the word Timshel on their bodies. It is a powerful reminder that the way is open for each of us. Despite the consequences of the past or our current circumstances we have the power of choice and that is a glorious thing if we embrace it and use it to enhance our lives. Many people will shy away from the responsibly of taking charge of their own life. It’s a shame, But in the end the choice is our own to make because- thou mayest.
Detachment. This word is the best I could think of to describe living on a cruise ship in the South Pacific for months on end. Don’t get me wrong, making friends on board isn’t hard. It’s actually probably one of the easiest places you can really get to know someone because you are always around each other. For better or worse you’re stuck together. But knowing that everything is temporary makes it very hard to truly care about anything.
One of the beauties of traveling is that you are who you are in that moment. Traveling helps to keep things pure. There is no past to hold you back or future worries to bog you down. Your reputation back home doesn’t mean shit. Once you leave that place those opinions and that part of you ceases to exist -for all intrinsic purposes anyway. It is both petrifying and exhilarating. You have the chance to reinvent yourself however you see fit. It is important to stay true to yourself, your goals, and keep making strides in becoming who you want to be. Because every day is an opportunity for betterment and change. I urge to take advantage of it while you can.
Leaving your home country for a long period of time bears a lot of similarities to leaving your hometown when you go away to college. The biggest difference is that here its 6 months not 4 years. The internet is patchy/pricey, there’s a language barrier because people come from a vast assortment of different places and an array of different ages. The food is about the same. Oh and there are no classes and more of a social scene and prettier girls (looking at you Creighton and smh). Some crew members are lifers some will quit after a few months. But that just adds to the intrigue and freedom to the life style. It allows you to see the whole spectrum of life with just a few conversations.
One thing I’ve really noticed since I’ve been on board is how easy it is to hide from the “real” world. To feel detached from everyday life. It’s hard to get emotional about anything back home because you are so out of the loop. You hear about things way after they happen- if at all. There is no question that many people find that appealing. They don’t have to deal with any real day to day problems. Everything on the ship is temporary. And for some that in itself is liberating. But it can also destroy a person if they let it. I truly believe that life is all about perception and timing. And living on a ship it’s vital to acknowledge the detachment and not let it consume you.
I’m sure you remember when the United States government shut down a few weeks ago. I didn’t find out about it until 8 days INTO the shutdown. I don’t know if it’s because I’m abroad in general or because I’m on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with erratic internet, but it is too easy to bury your head in the and only worry about your own day to day activities.
Ship life becomes all you know. I rarely know what day it is. I can only identify it as a “sea” or “port” day. Last week I would have bet my life it was Sunday then I looked at my watch and it was Wednesday. At times I really do miss having a weekly routine. Humans crave consistency. It’s in our nature. We find comfort in knowing what’s going to happen. But any life worth living can’t be lived only in your comfort zone. But the funny thing is that in extending you comfort zone you expand your experiences, interests, and friends circle.
If you’ve ever gone to summer camp or something where you are gone for days if not weeks you know what I’m talking about. People you’ve only met for a few days become your best friends. You can’t imagine how you survived without knowing them. You have trouble remembering life before you got there.
Living on a cruise ship magnifies events more than I can express. When you spend hours upon days with the same people relationships escalate. One week of ship time equates to 3 months of real time (this is a Todd guestimation, not an exact science.) Which means that I’ve been on this ship for 42 months (about 3.5 years) This is neither a positive nor a negative thing but an observation. Something I didn’t even consider before coming on board.
Another thing that I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to say good-bye to people who’ve become close friends but are leaving the ship. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when someone you don’t get along with (to put it mildly) gets off the ship and that is one of the best feelings of ship life (behind ice cream day and pay day.) Call me selfish, but people constantly getting on and off the ship never even crossed my mind. All I could think about was my own start and finish date. In some ways detachment is a positive here. It makes it hurt less when people leave. However, the thing about detachment in any case is that it’s a double sided sword. Yeah you limit the risk and hurt you may feel but you also limit the joy and happiness available to you.
The closest experience I’ve had to compare it to is when you graduate college and throughout the summer following said graduation a majority of your friends slowly begin to trickle away following jobs, significant others, grad school, or other opportunities elsewhere. Every weekend is someone’s last weekend. You are constantly “going out” (as much as you can “go out to the one crew bar), feeling sad, and acutely aware that in this case you could literally never see this person again. It was mere coincidence that you were both in the same place at the same time to begin with, right? After that first chance encounter friendship and relationships takes work, from both sides.
Some (looking at you pessimists) would think that this constant betrayal of leaving would cause you to want to lock yourself in your room and not get close to anyone. That things can’t “stay gold.” For those who don’t get that reference it’s part of the following Robert Frost poem:
“Nature’s first green is gold,/ Her hardest hue to hold./ Her early leaf’s a flower;/ But only so an hour./ Then leaf subsides to leaf./ So Eden sank to grief,/ So dawn goes down to day./ Nothing gold can stay
The poem has many different interpretations. It depends what situation you are applying the message to. In this application, he means that sometimes things are great. They’re ideal. But they can’t stay that way. Things will change and eventually the sun will set.
I agree, things can’t stay the way they are. For better or worse. But that isn’t any reason to not enjoy them when they are gold. Never let the knowledge that tomorrow things might not be perfect prevent you from enjoying things while they are.
It’s weird, on the ship where things are constantly moving and changing I’ve found that in most cases the people truly enjoy the “golden times.” People know that their time together is short and that things can’t last so they try and take advantage of every moment they can. This goes for friendships, relationships, shore excursions, and even parties in the crew bar. They understand that happiness can be fleeting so they enjoy it whenever they can. We always joke about enjoying the “small victories” when you can because being this isolated they are all you get some days. Life is all about the little things and learning to appreciate them.
Friendships on the ship also put friendships back home into perspective. Being away from home helps you see things more objectively. Jordan France, my best friend in the world, studied abroad and when we skyped he told me “Bro, it’s really interesting to see who goes out of their way to keep in touch with you when you leave, those are the people who know you have to fight to keep in your life.”
Through this experience I’ve learned that I have some truly great family and friends. Some I’ve known for years some. Others only a few weeks before I left. Regardless of the length of our friendship they have made an effort to keep our friendship strong almost as if I wasn’t 13,000 miles away. People I never expected to have done a great job keeping in touch. So I want to thank all of them (you know who you are and who you aren’t) for making me feel connected to them. Being away for so long makes it easy to forget who you were and who cares about you and that can be a very dangerous thing. So once again, thank you all for helping me to keep the evil that is detachment away.
“with mindfulness, strive.”