Several years ago I had the pleasure of spending the day celebrating the birthday of my amazing mother, Rosemary. We ate at our favorite restaurant in the world – The Lobster House, in Cape May, New Jersey. Heaven.
The Lobster House is located on the bay, near an inlet from The Atlantic Ocean. There’s a marina there, a seafood market and always a fleet of commercial fishing boats docked awaiting their next trip out to sea.
Each time I’m there, I’m reminded of the scalloping trip my buddy, Greg Klein, and I took in November, 1990.
We impulsively jumped on-board a scallop boat that was literally preparing to depart in minutes. We had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into. But, nonetheless, we ran off across the street to the fisherman’s outfitter, bought some gear, parked the car in a nearby lot, and minutes later we were sea-bound.
I’ll spare you most of the details, but suffice it to say, bad call.
The work was treacherous. If you’ve ever seen the show Deadliest Catch – imagine worse. 18 hour long shifts, bent over, digging through piles of crud scraped off the ocean floor in high seas and freezing cold temperatures, a gun wielding captain and a crew of cocaine users.
And if you’ve ever seen the movie, The Perfect Storm – imagine almost as bad. We didn’t die, but came about as close to it as possible.
On a 62′ boat in 30′ seas. I was expecting to die. I prepared myself for a watery grave. And, quite honestly, there was a part of me that thought sinking quietly to the bottom of the ocean to die was more appealing then the thought of another 3 1/2 weeks of the hell I was experiencing on-board that ship.
When the storm intensified and we were unable to continue to work, the captain chose to simply drift it out. Just float until the storm passed. But it didn’t pass. It just got worse.
The crew took turns on bow watch. That entails one person sitting at the helm watching the radar for any blips (other boats). As I sat on watch, chain smoking to help me stay awake, shaking in terror as the mammoth waves suddenly crashed over the boat and washed white the black windows in front of me, wondering if I’d ever see my family and friends again, if I’d ever walk on land again, if I’d ever get married, have a child, make a difference – I asked myself some questions…
Did I go for it?
Did I love hugely?
Did I make a difference?
These are the questions that people ask themselves when they’re on their death beds.
I’d never been so close to death. And confronted with my own mortality, I had that remarkable perspective shift. What bothered me from day to day no longer seemed significant. What I’d complain about with regularity no longer deserved my attention.
Obviously we survived. The storm worsened but the captain finally decided to head into shore. We’d drifted hundreds of miles south and Greg and I hopped ship the second we docked and hitch-hiked for two days from Virginia back to NJ.
We don’t need to wait until we’re confronted with death to ask these questions. Or, more importantly, to make the changes that need to be made so that we can emphatically respond to each of them with a resounding YES!
So, as my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Alison Arnold, always says…