“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
–John A. Shedd, 1928
Ships in harbor aren’t necessarily safe. I know, I know. It’s a metaphor. ANd it’s just a saying. And it makes a really good point. Despite my disagreement with it’s main premise, it’s one of my favorite quotes. In fact, it’s because it’s not completely and unequivocally true that I like it.
The first thought brought to mind when hearing or reading Shedd’s poignant words, is a cozy port wherein a sturdy ship is snuggled close to shore away from the elements, away from war or saboteurs. Rocking gently in lazy waves and bumping melodically against a dock. Its passengers carefree, its cargo safely stowed away.
It’s a nice image even if you know that’s not what ships are built for. After all, ships can’t be out all the time. There is a time and place to moore oneself to a stationary spot. But, as with all things in life, nothing is guaranteed. Which brings me back to my original point: ships aren’t necessarily safe just because they’re harbored.
In 1915 a passenger ship rolled over and sunk while tied to the dock on the Chicago River, killing 844 people. Just this past week, a ship in port was damaged by Hurricane Sally. And, lest we never forget, the ships damaged or destroyed while moored at Pearl Harbor. There are dangers great and small, man-made and of natural origin, that can bring a boat down no matter where it is. There is a weird, morbid brand of comfort from this information. Knowing that there are no guarantees. That you have no control and things might just happen whenever they’re supposed to happen no matter what you do or where you go. Whether you take to the seas or stay in one place.
Still, I understand the appeal of staying in one place. Not risking anything. It’s nice, the feeling of being tethered to a dock. It gives you a sense of security, a sense of grounding that makes you feel like, “Ah okay. We made it.” It can also be fun and anticipatory to be there, waiting to head out into a new adventure. That prelude to excitement you can only get right before you embark on your journey that is, sometimes, more adrenaline-inducing than the journey itself. You are still safe and free to wonder at what could be. You could still decide to stay put. You have options before you set off.
To stay or go.
But staying doesn’t mean you’re going to be safe, so if you’re already aboard the ship, you might as well go. After all, that’s what ships are built for.