For me the sea has always been where I turn for inspiration, solace, and wonder. The night I was born I breathed thick salt air and first heard the sound of long Pacific swells rolling onto whispering sand, and from that day my life was held forever in the sea’s net of wonders. My mom and dad were living in a beach motel in Southern California while my dad did his medical residency, and my first steps were on the sand and behind my dad as he made hospital rounds and home visits to patients. I can never remember any time in my life when I wanted to be anything except a doctor and a marine naturalist, and thanks to my parents, extraordinary mentors and opportunities I became a marine biologist and a doctor and have had experiences in both fields that make me grateful to be alive just for one of those moments.
My favorite thing about the sea is that it is not lonely; in the sea I feel connected by the water to millions of people around the world. I imagine millions of people of a thousand colors and languages and religions and nations all floating together in the sea’s embrace and connected across thousands of miles by one continuous, unbroken sea. When we float in the vast sea, only a little of it is holding us up, but that small part is connected to an unimaginably vast and powerful body of water. In the same way, this is how a people are strong. When we say ‘a sea of humanity’ we acknowledge that humanity–all of us together–are as powerful as the sea, which is always waiting to show what it can do.
Like every wave, every life is unique and beautiful, something I have experienced time and again through this voyage. In 2011 we saw our
10,000th patient, and although I am very proud of how many people have received care through Floating Doctors, what I am most proud of in 2011 was that as we expanded our project, we always stayed committed to the individual patient. Time and again, this has ultimately led to our being able to do more for more people than we originally anticipated and I have faith that we will remain committed to the single, individual patient as continue our voyage.
Long before I was old enough to venture over the horizon the last lands and seas had long since been charted, but fortunately the frontiers of health and the sea of humanity offer an endless horizon. Looking out over the Pacific horizon so many years ago I never envisioned that my greatest loves would one day combine in a mobile medical relief team exploring frontiers of health across the living ocean that washes all shores equally. I had no idea HOW I would pursue these two passions, I only knew with certainty that if I did not have them both in my life, I would never be happy, and so I would look out over the water or read Jacques Cousteau or trail after my dad on rounds, and dream of adventures on distant seas and future patients I would see and help.
But all the time a voice was urging me to move forward, always there was another voice…darker, more ancient; a more primitive vocabulary but it didn’t need sophisticated words…it has raw fear, self-loathing, shame, narcissism, and petty angst and selfishness. This voice, all my life, has whispered under my dreams, telling me I will never become a doctor, and never see the seas I spent my childhood dreaming of. Sometimes it spoke with other people’s voices, like during the year we struggled to rebuild Southern Wind after she had been donated to us and some people scoffed and said we would never make it, and it would never work, and we would all be killed and waste all the support we gathered…but here we are. Sky and I lived with fear as a constant companion for the whole tenuous first year of our project, when so often it hung by a thread, but (especially with my sister beside me and many hands outstretched to help us keep going) we were able to move forward, one foot in front of the other, and now here we are…going on a mobile clinic in the morning, more than 600 mobile clinics into our voyage.
I know now that this pessimistic voice I’ve always had spoke from feeling not good enough somehow to deserve attaining my dreams, and although as I got older (and continue to get older) the voice got fainter and fainter (I pretty much ignore it on autopilot now…most of the time), it took many years before I could–as my wise sister says–”Allow myself to succeed” without it being a struggle. We are always our own harshest critics and unforgiving judges, but as they saying goes: ‘You never know if you can climb the mountain until you try (REALLY try).’ And as a wise man said, is it really that frightening to succeed, and is it really, in the grand scheme of things, so terrible to fail? And there is always the third option (my favorite): sometimes when you fall, you find out you can fly (or learn how really, really quickly)–especially if hands are outstretched to help you stay in the air, and your ego (and the dark voice inside us) allows you accept the help that is offered.
The kindness and generosity I have seen people show towards us and to others fills me with hope that the daunting
challenges of our time can be survived. I am immensely proud of what my crew, friends and family, and all our volunteers and supporters have made possible, and incredibly grateful to be able to be a part of this voyage and to have shared it with such extraordinary people.
Even with all its faults, earth is a beautiful planet, and humanity, despite its many, many faults, is heroic. There are heroes all around us; it has been a great honor to work alongside so many of them.
“The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.”
Check out these pictures; some of my favorite moments captured in 2011.
Please click on any of the photos to activate the slide viewer.
June 30, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida
A day that began with a storm and ended with a beautiful sunset that turned the evening sky into flames!
Lightning and thunder crashed all around the house at 6 AM, rattling the windows and making the power flicker. Afterward, we managed to continue work as usual on the boat. It is so exciting that we are doing finishing work now—carpeting, paneling, running water lines and plumbing, painting, etc; we can really see the boat coming together!
We finished putting up the carpeting in the Scorpion Cabin—that’s what we call the twin cabin on the port side of the aft cabins; when we were hustling medical supplies onboard during the floods here, we stored many of them temporarily in this cabin, and a day or so later we came upon a scorpion that must have taken refuge from the floods in one of the boxes and got carried aboard. For the next few weeks, that dark, warm cabin piled floor to ceiling with boxes looked like the ultimate scorpion apartment complex and made us a bit cagey about going in there and rummaging around. We never saw another one, but forever after we refer to that cabin as The Scorpion Cabin. Hopefully it will never live up to its name again!
The heat and humidity combine into what is called a ‘Killing Heat.’ A couple of years ago, when I was in Ireland, a rare heat wave drove temperatures in London above 100 degrees, and hundreds of people died—mostly elderly people without air conditioning (not a common household appliance then in England), as they (and infants) are much more vulnerable to overheating. The heat here is even stronger—high humidity, and when we are working on deck, and especially down below decks without the fans turned on, sweat pours from every pore on our bodies. Clothes are soaked in moments, paint trays have a rain of salty water into them…it is BRUTAL. We drink 5-10 liters per day and it flows right out of us.
June 28, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida
Ah, Sunday again! Not a moment too soon—we had a long, brutal week of work! Noah spent some time hanging over the side in harness touching up the port side hull; I think we made him paranoid about alligators coming up underneath him but he survived unscathed—this time!
We kept our normal Sunday ritual today; sleep in a little, then clean up the boat for the next week’s work—in only a couple of hours when we start work , chaos reigns aboard and it becomes very hard to find tools or navigate over piles of lumber, coils of wire, trays of paint and other boat-building debris so even though we constantly clean as we go and tidy up at the end of every day, half a day on Sunday going over the whole boat from stem to stern saves us hours of work otherwise lost tool-hunting during the following week.
Normally we would try and muster the energy to go to the beach for a couple of hours and lie in the sand, but for the last few evenings we have been working on a side project—Sean found a film contest sponsored by Converse and Target where the theme is about turning dreams into reality, and we have entered.
It is the first film project that we have all worked on together, and everyone pitched in like we do on everything else—Jon drew the titles, Jamie drew over 700 frames, I did the voice over, Ryan and Jamie recorded the sound effects…and all in the evenings after putting on our usual 10-14 hours on the boat! The film was due to be submitted online at 1 AM tonight so Sunday was not quite the day of rest it usually is, especially for poor Sean—by the time editing was done (at 12:55 AM!) he was practically falling apart at the seams!
Tonight, I decided to try out a newly available form of relaxation—there is a Jacuzzi bath tub in Dennis and Jeannette’s house and it turns out that a few bubble go a long way in a Jacuzzi tub…I nearly fell asleep, but I could feel the soreness of the last two months easing as I luxuriated. Sky reminded me to enjoy it while it lasts…tomorrow we go back to the boat with a vengeance!
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