safe.harbor.

“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.

dark.light.

dark.light.

The fireflies used to lead us down, single-file, through the woods. Onto the bridge. Over the lake where Kelly tried to save the fish she couldn’t bear to see die after one of the campers took to long on the release part of the catch & release policy. Past the amphitheater lit up paranormally, as if the light was coming straight out of the core of the wooden slab benches and the cross itself. Past the empty cabins that would soon be filled with campers who had found their way back by the light of the fireflies.

The sound of a firefly darkness is a thing I can’t describe with words. Maybe not with paint, either. Nor song. Maybe it takes all these things. The sound of the silence that isn’t really silence–if you listen closely, you hear the bullfrogs down by the lake and the buzz of insects you don’t want to know the names of and the shuffling of shoes through the dirt and the sniffling of someone trying to stop crying after leaving the tabernacle and the rustle of campers reaching for their new friends’ hands. But for some reason, your brain still lets the silence claim these sounds. They belong to it, they are right at home with the silence and the dark.

The dark that isn’t really dark. There are stars in the sky and that ephemeral glow of the cross that seems to come from nowhere and the reflections of it all in the lake and, of course, the fireflies. The fireflies that belong to the dark. The fireflies so small and dainty that you can only notice them when it is this dark. So dark that you swipe three or four times before you make contact with your best friend’s hand. So dark that the lake seems magical in the way it can grab onto the smallest of light and propel it back out into the world to be seen. So dark that the light is almost an offense.

Only in a dark, silent night like this, do you even notice the fireflies. Only here, as you make your way back to your empty cabin from the joyous tabernacle, do you realize how amazing the smallest contrast to your surroundings can seem. How little you actually need, to find your way back to where you’re supposed to be. How big the light can seem, once you quit being afraid of the dark.