Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alone at Sea

In hindsight, thinking about these old sea stories makes me laugh -- the utter absurdity of it all. At the time, however, I was very depressed.

In the wake of my failure at BUD/S, separation from my pregnant wife, being thrust into the oppressive conditions of life at sea aboard an aircraft carrier, my constant sadness was crushing.

I didn't let it show though. I shined my shoes and ironed my shirts and did what I was told to do. But like its psychic opposite, my depression permeated my consciousness, unseen by others. It left me with nothing but a desire to be alone.

On our first night of liberty in Hong Kong (after a month at sea), I followed a group of guys to an Australian bar, which was rumored to be the hot spot in town. When we got there, it was packed with squids. I took one look at all the drunken sailors already there and walked out.

After walking alone for about a mile, I found a secluded British-style pub nearly empty, where I had dinner and the best tasting draft Guinness I've ever had. Nearby, I found a high rise hotel and paid a ransom for a last minute room overlooking much of the city. The thing that caught my eye, though, was an athletic facility just across the street, with an all-weather running track and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

I spent so much time just staring at it from my window -- how much I longed for simpler times, when my only worry each day was whether I should go running, go swimming, or do both.

From Hong Kong, we steamed south and further west to Singapore. During my time in the Center, Guru had made at least two trips to Singapore and I'd always wanted to visit. I knew that it had a large Indian population, including a "little India" section of town, replete with shops and temples. Once there, I spent most of my time in Singapore alone -- eating well, going to the movies, and doing some shopping.

One of the books I bought in Singapore was Rudyard Kipling's Kim, which I read back on the ship as we continued our journey through the Strait of Malacca, around the Indian sub-continent, and towards the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf. During that time, I day dreamed of jumping overboard and being picked up by an Indian fisherman who would bring me back to the land of my spirit.

In my loneliness, I wrote Shambhu and asked him to send me a photo of Guru. I'd wanted to meditate, but didn't have a picture of Guru to meditate on. At best, the letter would take two weeks to reach Shambhu in New York, and then another two-to-three weeks to make it back to me on the ship. In the meantime, all I could do was wait.

About six weeks into our journey (perhaps mid-March 1993), we began our transit through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Persian Gulf. Our proximity to the Iranian coast -- and that country's possession of Chinese-derived anti-ship cruise missiles -- drove the officers in the intelligence office near bat shit insane with worry.

The transit itself was beautiful though. We started our run in the pre-dawn hours and after breakfast I went up to the crow's nest to have a look-see. Partially obscured by fog, the Iranian coast floated by just four or five miles away, looking ancient, mysterious, and -- to me -- inviting. All was quiet as we slipped into the Gulf unmolested for three months of operations.

On board a modern war vessel, along with almost 6,000 other men, I felt all alone and completely powerless.

Here's a great set of photos by Hanneorla on Flickr taken in the Indian District of Singapore (from which the photo of Durga, above, was taken).

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