Basic Safety Training taught me more than just safety
A chapter of life has come and gone. I have now completed my basic safety training at Sea School and returned from my stint in the Bayou. It was an eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Now it’s time for me to move out and finish the last few steps before I can set sail. What follows are some of the ways in which I have grown through my experience at Sea School, and by moving to Chicago nine months ago.
Don’t compare apples to oranges
As I touched on in my previous entry, the culture there in Southern Alabama is quite different from anything I’m used to. I think it’s great to stretch yourself and to try new things; it helps you figure out who you are and it keeps you humble. Travel reminds you that the world is a lot bigger than you think, that there is more to life than your daily routine. No matter how big your life seems to you, you are actually a very small part of a very big picture.
No matter how big your life seems to you, you are actually a very small part of a very big picture.
I am ashamed of the thoughts that ran through my head when I first arrived from Chicago last week. And I know I had the same sort of thoughts about a year ago when I returned to Tennessee from school in Paris. I found myself thinking of Southern culture as inferior.
I think that a big part of my poor attitude upon returning to the South is because, years ago, I had grown to resent it. I had become to feel trapped there. All I wanted was to experience life in a booming metropolis, to live at a faster pace, to feel like I was part of something big. And it was like I couldn’t reach that point no matter how badly I wanted it or how hard I tried.
A few days into this trip, though, it finally hit me. Just because the cultures are different doesn’t mean either one is better or worse. I need to appreciate both for their idiosyncrasies.
Now, I may prefer one culture over another, or over many others, as people tend to do. But that doesn’t mean that I am right and that an entire culture is wrong. It’s just my preference, and I have a right to it, but I’m not gonna let it sway my thoughts anymore. When in Rome, do as the Romans do — and respect the way they do it. So from now on I will carry that lesson with me: Enjoy each culture for its own character and unique qualities.
What I like about the Bayou La Batre area in particular is the industrious atmosphere. It seems like everyone there is a hard worker. I also love seeing the Spanish moss on the big, strong, sprawling trees; and not to mention, the S-word …
The South does still feel like home to me, and for that reason I will always love it. I love the sticky summer air that makes your glasses fog up when you walk outside. The rumbling thunder that rolls from one end of the sky to the other during a summer storm. The bugs buzzing in the tree line during the day, the crickets chirping and fireflies glowing at night. The fact that you can actually see the stars come out. The Southern Hospitality, the sweet tea, the friendly wave from strangers as you drive down the road, the accents and different ways of speaking.
To be honest, I miss it already.
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor
Before the course I was focused on only two aspects of what will soon be my new lifestyle: The sight seeing, and the loneliness. But I forgot one huge, critical component of seafaring life: All the terrifying stuff that can possibly go wrong.
Every time I’ve been in a public place and seen emergency equipment, I’ve unwittingly thought to myself that someone around there knows what to do in an emergency situation, so I don’t need to worry. Well, now I am one of Those People.
I never, ever thought I’d need to learn these things as a graphic designer! I feel better prepared for these situations, and I feel like I’ve grown as a person by being presented with all these scenarios. But yet, I still don’t feel ready to handle them, and I probably never will. The only thing that might change that is if I actually have to apply that training in real life. I sincerely hope I am never in that situation.
Get stronger or die
There were aspects of the course that showed me how much I depend on others for physical strength. And I hate that feeling. I would like to know that I can take care of myself if I have to.
The guys at school are all able-bodied men who are used to doing heavy lifting and whatnot. One of our tests was to put out a live fire, dressed in full firefighter gear and using a legit fire hose. The suits alone are heavy and hot, they hinder your coordination, and then you gotta put on an SCBA which adds maybe 20 more pounds. It’s hard to hear with the breather going while you’re underneath all those layers. And it’s hard to see out of that little mask, especially when in a dark, smoky environment.
Since smoke rises, it’s better to crouch down to fight a fire in a confined space. We headed into the container in teams of three and took turns crouching down, starting the hose, spraying the fire, and standing back up. It was at this point that I realized I have little to no muscle in my quads.
I was the third and last person in line, and when I had to stand back up for the third time, I physically couldn’t do it. One of the professional firefighters on the scene had to help me up. In doing so, I lost contact from my team, which is a huge no-no when fighting fire. (Same if you’re trying to survive in the water, by the way.)
If it were a real-life emergency this would have been a really stupid move on my part, dangerous for myself and for my team. I don’t want to put anyone in the position of having to take care of me. So yeah, now it’s pretty much “get stronger or die.” Like, literally. My new fitness goal is just to gain muscle.
While we’re on that fun topic of death, I’ll mention that one of my friends loves to playfully remind me that I could die on this voyage. Yeah, it’s a possibility, but then that’s a possibility anytime, anywhere. What matters is that I’m not afraid of death, for three reasons:
- I believe in an afterlife and that I’ll be in Heaven someday.
- I am proud of the fact that for the last couple years I’ve been pushing myself in a lot of ways; I’ve grown a lot and I will continue to do so.
- I don’t have any major unfinished business weighing on my heart and soul.
I mean, there are still literally about 100 things I want to check off my Bucket List, but there are also nearly 100 that I’ve already accomplished. I’m living a full and interesting life, dangit. I’ve experienced a lot of happy moments and I’ve seen a lot of cool sights. And I know that I am making use of my talents and leaving my mark on the world. What more could you ask for in life?
Well, someone to share it with, I suppose. Other than that though, I’m content with how far I have come in life and how much further I intend to go.
Before I went through this course I pictured my own death at sea a lot differently than I do now. I imagined myself floating peacefully down into the water on a clear, calm day, reflecting on my proudest moments and thinking of who I will reunite with in Heaven, and finally falling asleep and letting all my worldly cares float away.
Then one of the instructors brought it to my attention that if you’re abandoning your ship, it’s because something is seriously bad. The water is probably rough and stormy, you might have low visibility, and there are people panicking all around you. And you will be scared out of your mind.
Like I said, I desperately hope I never find myself in any of these situations. But now I am better prepared for what to do in case of such an emergency. I just gotta trust that the training, drills, and muscle memory will take over if the time comes. I’ll be fine, no matter what happens, and I take comfort in that.
I’m astounded by the bravery of anyone who has ever done seafaring work throughout history, especially transatlantic. I have so much respect for them. Being a North American of European descent, I’m sure I have ancestors who made that journey way back when. Maybe that’s where I get this adventurous streak from.
Just wing it
It seems that the biggest way I’ve grown in the past year is in getting over my need for structure. I’ve always been the kind of person who has a plan for everything, and who falls apart without one. My mom once told me that I didn’t even like recess as a kid because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing; I just wanted someone to tell me what to do.
For my entire career I worked toward getting a design job at a publisher in a big city. In November of last year, I finally accomplished that, and it is an incredible feeling of fulfillment. Coming home to the beautiful Chicago skyline each day has made me so happy. (The commute to the suburbs was brutal, but it was entirely worth it.)
But along with the fulfillment came the feeling of, “Now what?” And that is entirely foreign to me.
I’ve always known what was on the horizon; I’ve always been working toward the next step. So when asked where I saw myself in 10 years, I didn’t really have an answer.
I thought I’d still be in Chicago, settled down with The One and a cat or dog or both, living in a high-rise condo, and working somewhere downtown instead of in the ’burbs. I started building a life for myself here; I went to social events, made friends, and even started dating again for the first time in about a year and a half.
Well, I guess God had other plans for me. When he presented me with this opportunity, I knew I couldn’t say no.
Now with this new job, I think I know the plan: Work on that bucket list. (Hmm … I wonder. Is God trying to tell me that I am going to die soon?) See new things, try new foods, meet new people, explore the world. Even though this is a very nebulous plan, at least it’s something. And I think it is really good for me to not have my life sorted into neat little metaphorical boxes. (Just physical ones, in storage in my parents’ basement.)
And anyway, it seems that I’ll have plenty of structure during my on-contract life to balance out this “la-la-la” approach to my off-contract life.
Progress over perfection
I think my desire for control and preparedness comes from my anxious tendencies. But since pushing myself in many ways to stop letting anxiety dictate my life for me, I’ve learned to loosen my grip on things.
One of my mantras is “Progress over perfection.” The more I remind myself of that notion, the easier life becomes to deal with. I’m not as stressed as I once was, and this comes through in so many facets of life. I can focus on what’s happening now rather than what might happen in the future, or what I just did that was “wrong” or what else I have to take care of that day.
I am making an effort to put this into practice over the big picture in life too rather than just day to day. For example, day-to-day: Don’t get on Facebook when you’re with your friends or family in real life. That’s for when you’re alone and missing everyone. Big picture: Don’t go up in your dorm and worry about packing and moving, when you’re not even home to actually do anything about it. Go downstairs and get to know your classmates. (Why yes, that is a real-life example from a few days ago.)
Take the scenic route
This trip for school was the first time I’ve driven a car since November. I had forgotten how much I enjoy road trips! It really ignited a fire inside me to see this beautiful country from the highway—and from the back roads too, for that matter.
There are so many parts I have yet to see, so many different landscapes and cultures to experience. “Take a cross-country road trip” has lingered on my Bucket List for several years, and now that I will have two months off between contracts, I will finally have an opportunity to make it happen.
Another item on my bucket list is to own a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle. I’d love to kill two birds with one stone, save up for a cheap fixer-upper, and drive it around the states! I want to take an auto-body course, too. I want to learn how cars work so that I can fix mine if something goes wrong. (This goes back to my goal of self sufficiency!)
One of my instructors owns a 1971 Beetle and graciously took me for a spin in it this weekend. So much fun! It was the first time I’ve ever been in one. It was pretty worn but hey, it ran, and that’s all I would need out of my own too. I love things with a patina and history; they have a story to tell.
You reap what you sow
As I write this, it is my last night living here in Chicago. I have only been here for eight months, but I am going to miss this place dearly. I lived in Atlanta for nearly four years and I haven’t missed it yet—just my friends who are still there. So why is it different with Chicago?
It’s because you get out of it what you put into it.
Like I mentioned earlier, I actually started building a life for myself here. And ironically, it’s because I was planning to stay here for a long time. I always knew that Atlanta would be short-term in my life, so I never bothered to get involved with anything there. I thought it would be a waste of time. My rationale was, why make friends if you’re only going to move away?
Perhaps if I had invested myself there in Atlanta the same way I have done here, I would have enjoyed that chapter of my life much more.
Here, I started a music discussion group. I joined a trivia team, albeit only a few weeks before I found out about the move. I went to several other meetups around town where I made new friends and met new people. I started dating again, and although nothing panned out romantically I did make a few new friends. Through all of these experiences, I got to know the city. I feel like I fit in here.
I found a place with a thriving art scene, a lot of social events, and such efficient public transportation that I don’t need to own a car. And perhaps my favorite aspect of all, Chicago is jam-packed with gorgeous architecture.
There’s no law that says I can’t move back here someday, and I just might do so, but I know it will never feel exactly the same as my life here now. I have enjoyed life as a Chicago resident, and I’ve really made an effort here. Because of that, I’ve grown a lot as a person, and that is what I call a successful chapter of life.