In Irons

When life takes the wind out of your sails, it is to test you at the oars.*

I was reminded again this evening of the old cartoon that has one of the characters standing on the deck of a sailboat which is dead in the water.  As he stands at the helm, waiting for the wind to come up again, he takes matters into his own hands and begins to blow into the sail of the little craft.

It is an endeavor with no possibility of success.

There is, of course, a scientific explanation for the spectacular failure of such self propulsion.  The laws of nature declare that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  If both the action and the reaction originate on the deck of the same craft, each is canceled out by the other.  The wind expelled from the lungs of the captain blows forward and, striking the sails, is reflected back at the same rate, to achieve precisely nothing.

The boat remains dead in the water, despite the tremendous effort of its captain.

It may already be obvious that I am speaking metaphorically when I write of boats and ships.  I don’t much like being on boats.  I even get a little queasy as I contemplate what Mr. Redding saw as he was sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.  No.  I’m thinking about these little boats in which we are sailing along through life.

There have been a few times over the course of my years when I believed that my boat was dead in the water.  There was no wind from above and no current from below.  And, the oars certainly make for slow going, despite what Mr. Brault may think (see quote above).  Additionally, I have recently discovered another reason that a boat might be powerless while at sea.

We would probably call it pilot error nowadays.  It seems, of the many mishaps which can befall our little crafts, most of them are self-inflicted.  They come from hesitation, from mismanagement, even from panic.  There is one maneuver which I have performed many times that causes my boat to founder and usually leads me to blame someone else, or even God on occasion.

It’s my own fault.

The nautical minded will know this little trick as being in irons.  All it entails is turning the boat directly into the wind, with no chance of the sails catching its beneficial gusts, either from the sides or from the rear.  The wind is still blowing, yet the craft is becalmed.  Blowing directly into the bow, the wind holds the boat straight, allowing it to turn neither port nor starboard, left nor right.  Trapped!  In irons.  It is not a position in which one wants to be caught.

It is also a position which is almost always avoidable.

I like to go in the direction I choose.  I do not wish to be controlled by anyone or anything.  Call it inflexibility or obstinance, or any other descriptive word that aids in rationalizing my attitude, but it remains nothing more nor less than simple stubbornness.  

I want what I wantwhether or not it is the best thing for me or those around me.  And when I’m sitting in the boat which is caught fast in the iron grip of the wind, actually being pushed backwards, I finally realize that better choices were available.

We can’t control which way the wind blows.  We can’t control if the wind blows.

We can trust the Master of the Wind.

We should probably also keep the oars handy.  There is still work to be done and time in which to do it.

We’ll do it better if we’re not in irons.

“Gotta serve somebody.”
(Bob Dylan ~ American singer/songwriter)

“The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
(see above)

*Quote from Robert Brault ~ American free-lance writer

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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