Saturday the 18th of January was a rather big day in my cruise ship life. It was a day I had both been waiting for and dreading. The final “cross off” on my cruise ship calendar. It marked the day when a bunch of my friends officially disembark the ship to return to their “real lives”. And there’s a real chance I’ll never see some of them again. After living on a cruise ship for 5 months I’m used to people coming and going. I’ve touched on this in other blogs- detachment is a part of this lifestyle. However, this was different. You can’t control how strong your friendships with other people are or how affected you’ll be when they leave. Humans we are extremely social animals. I once read “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value. Rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival.”
During you life people will come and go. Hopefully we all strive to make a meaningful impact on each other. Leaving people “behind” is a necessary condition in advancing you life in the direction of your choice. The departure doesn’t make what you shared any less real. Nor does the length of the friendship matter. Time is arbitrary in relationships. What truly defines a friendship is the experiences shared and memories that were made between the two people. Obviously, when you live on a ship with someone you have similar experiences and feelings to share. This tends to increase the bonds between people. With that said, it wasn’t just that a few people who I’d known a few months were leaving, it was how close we’d all become in those few months. These were people who helped to give me a home when mine was 13,000 miles away. They were there whenever I needed them regardless of the time of day or oddity of the situation. Throughout my life I’ve been bless in a way few people been in regards to the friends I’ve been able to find. To finally cross that date off and say good-bye to all those close friends really instilled in me that I will be leaving soon as well.
Whenever we look ahead in life towards what we perceive as our next “big life event” we tend to break the time between then and now into sections. It makes the time that needs to pass more manageable and helps us to feel like we’re accomplishing something simply by getting closer to that event. Since I got here I segmented my trip by holidays for the most part. Halloween, Thanksgiving, the Christmas cruise, the New Year’s cruise, but the final date I had on my calendar was January 18th. It marked the final “big event” date I had to cross off before I could leave. In this way I understand that all of my ship friends leaving was a necessary condition to my own departure; but it doesn’t make it any less difficult to pick up and move on like nothing was lost. Yes I still have several good friends left on board who I am looking forward to spending the next few weeks with, but to just wake up one day and realize everything is different can be a hard pill to swallow.
I looked at my friend’s replacements. Each one of them was wide eyed and in over their heads. Being thrown into the fire on day one tends to lead to burns. This got me thinking about repetition’s impact on appreciation. The more we do something (or longer we are somewhere) the more immune to the experience we seem. A mere 5 months ago, I was the newbie who was in over my head. When I first started on the ship everything was overwhelming and incredible. The people from all over the world, the exotic locations, the view, the ship itself (seriously still amazed a giant piece of metal floats), everything about it at first blew my mind. But slowly over the past few months I’ve become more numb and less appreciative of everything I have here and find myself anticipating my departure date. Why is that the case? Why is it human nature to default to “the grass is greener” somewhere else as a life mentality. Why is it that the more we are exposed to something the less we appreciate it? Is there any way to negate this trend or are we destined to constantly be haunted by the thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere?
At this point in my contract my mind is in a constant tug of war. I’m torn between the nostalgia of the past few months and the desire to move on. Looking back I’ve had a lot of great times on board and am very thankful for each and every one of them along with the people who made each one of them possible. But I’m also close enough to leaving for a full attention switch. With less than twenty days till I’m back in the States my mind has started drifting to my next move. Some days I find myself counting the hours until I am able to board the plane back to the States. I get excited about seeing my family and friends again. I’m excited to have multiple options of where to eat, drink, and who to hang out with. Hell, I’m almost excited for the frigid temperatures and the snow waiting for me back in Nebraska. (emphasis on almost, summer year round is pretty incredible) The reality that people have unlimited high speed internet is a concept that seems equivalent to Jesus walking on water to me at this point. Living on a boat for half a year has really helped to reinforce the little luxuries of life that I confess I had taken for granted. At times, the longing for all these things has overtaken my sense of the “now” and flooded my consciousness with thoughts of the future. Is there anything wrong with looking ahead? No, it’s a necessity of life. But the problem comes when you are constantly living in the future and going through the motions in the present. (Immanuel Kant, the philospher, talks a lot about this in his transcendental philosophy. He talks about how humans are constantly projecting their consciousness either back to the past or into the future. How we never truly live in the present. But that’s a discussion for another day).
I’ll be honest, once I catch myself doing this I feel incredibly guilty. I know that one day I’ll look back and wish I could have all of this back. To be 23, sailing around the South Pacific, meeting new people each week, and seeing island paradises was literally my dream less than a year ago. To realize that I’m “checking out early” some days bothers me more than I’d admit. I know I’m not alone in this way of thinking. Everyone takes the current moment for granted. It’s human nature. We’re “big picture” creatures. We look ahead to the next major event in our life because we think it’s that event that will fulfill us in a way our daily live doesn’t. We hope that it may also give our life some kind of meaning. But in the search for that next big event, that home run ball, we tend to lose sight of the little incredible moments happening to us on a daily basis. One phrase by Charles de Lint that popped into my head while I was writing this was: “remember the quiet wonders. The world has more need of them than it has for warriors.” I found that to be a fitting reminder because it’s an appreciation for these day-to-day moments that really lend to a lifetime of happiness.
Talking this over with a friend who is currently teaching abroad in Japan (S/O to my good friend Rachel Gulden for all the e-mails, advice, and the countless inspiration she’s given me) showed me that I wasn’t alone in how I’d been feeling. The little things that at first had a large impact on our experience overseas no longer seem to be enough to keep us appreciative of our current situations. I look at gorgeous islands and see it as “just a beach.” I wake up and think “man I have to play pool volleyball again today, ugh.” I know how ridiculous this is to complain about. And I’m not trying to complain but merely give insight to what I’ve noticed I haven’t been appreciating. I am also aware that there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind switching places with me. But this isn’t about how good or bad I have it. (For the record I don’t like the thought of comparing situations with other people, for better or worse, because regardless of someone else’s situation it doesn’t change your situation or how you feel about it. Guilt can only make someone appreciative for so long. For example, telling your upset child that there are starving children in China doesn’t change the fact that they are upset. At the end of the day you have what you have regardless of anyone’s situation, so you need to find a way to deal with it).
This post is about how to constantly appreciate each day and everything about it regardless of the repetition volume of the activity in question. It’s about trying to find the delight in each day. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to do it on a daily basis. I’m a continual work in progress. The best I could come up with was to just keep reminding yourself to look for it and stay self reflective. Keep a connection with your past and always remember the wonder of that first time. Jack Kerouac once wrote: “be in love with your life, every minute of it.” In order to do that you must stop just going through the motions. Don’t become numb to your life or your current situation. Always find ways to appreciate things even if you’ve done it a million times. Be adventurous and open to each situation as if it was the first time. Embrace each day, event, and moment as if it were your last time. Stay appreciative for each day you are given. This appreciation is what gives life satisfaction. This appreciation is what gives life meaning.
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, an exclaim, murmur, or think at some point, “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
“with mindfulness, strive.”