For What It’s Worth

Shades of Moby Dick

While at sea years ago serving in Uncle Sam’s Navy and in more recent years while fortunate enough to go on a cruise to the Alaska Inland Passage, I was blessed to see a variety of sea creatures, the most magnificent of which were whales. Awesome creatures.

But one sight I did not see was a white humpback whale, a rare creature. Various things I have seen or not seen at sea came to mind the other day when I read an article about a rare white humpback whale being sighted off the coast of Norway. Dan Fisher, a British maritime engineer, spotted the whale while on a boat trip to Svalbard, Norway, and he took pictures from the ship’s mast.

Included is a video showing the white whale surface, blow a spout and then dive under the water again. Awesome! I watched the video on my computer, and, shades of Moby Dick, it stirred up a passel of memories.

Those memories included my time at sea and the many experiences and happenings along the way. I remembered how the sea, much like a human, has its moods. It can be angry, tossing ships about on huge waves, and it can be calm, sitting motionless and seemingly as flat and still as a smooth glass tabletop for as far as the eye can see. I saw fish flying out of the water, the graceful gliding in and out of the water by schools of porpoise, and, of course, the leviathans of the seas, whales. I watched in awe as they rose majestically from the sea and crashed back into water. Magnificent.

But my days as a sailor were nothing like those of Ishmael aboard the whaling ship Pequod in Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s classic novel first published in 1851. Certainly, I didn’t experience a ship’s captain like Captain Ahab, a mad man obsessed by a need for revenge against a great white whale that had attacked a ship he was on. Ahab survived the attack but lost a leg.

Yes, I read the book and, some would say to my shame, didn’t appreciate it as a true classic of American literature. I have been told and have read that the book offers insights and observations on life, religion, and whatever else. I was reading the book as required reading in a humanities class in college and a book requiring that many hours of laborious reading held little attraction for me. That type of focused, time-consuming reading did not fit well in my schedule of carrying a full load, working to pay for school and support my family, and finding time for my wife and children. Frankly, before finishing the book I think I may have been cheering for the whale.

I handled the movie much better.

All that notwithstanding, I was interested in the recent white whale sighting and the fact that it did bring to mind, among other memories, the mixed memories of Moby Dick. One of the things I remember about Moby Dick is the all-consuming obsession Captain Ahab had with finding the great white whale and exacting revenge on it. Another memory is of a member of the class who had his own small obsession with the book. I recall his bragging, make that explaining, to me that this reading of Moby Dick for class was his seventh reading of the book and he was just now beginning to grasp the many insights to be gleaned from it.

In thinking about Moby Dick and Captain Ahab’s obsession, I am struck by the thought that perhaps each of us has an obsession of own. Our obsession may not be as controlling and intense as Captain Ahab’s, but it may be strong enough to lead us places we sometimes wish we wouldn’t go. Obsessions, whether great or small, can adversely affect our lives and our relationships with those we love.

It behooves us to recognize them and bring our faith to work in battling against them. We need to take control, not allow our obsessions to have the upper hand. We need to be aware and not have a great white whale in our life.

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