Are we being hijacked on the sea of life?

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

Many people told me I should view the movie “Captain Phillips” before it was no longer available at our local theater. So, off we went. As usual, I came prepared with my pen and writing tablet in the event I might hear an intriguing word or phrase — grist for my writing mill. It was only a few moments before I was drawn into the intensity of the film. If I had not known about the event, an alert would have been made in the apparent anxiety shared by Phillips and his wife, as well as the conversation. They noted his trips didn’t get easier. They mentioned a world moving so fast and things changing so much. “Big wheels are turning. You’ve got to be strong to survive.”
The drama was in place. Eyes fixed on the screen and heart in mouth, there would be no note-taking this time. I had read about the occurrence, but seeing it unfold was more than words could tell. I was gripped by the story.
When I could breathe easily again, when the end had come and Captain Phillips was safe, though shaken to the core by the experience, wonderment took hold. I took a second look at the portrayal of courage in the face of terror. There were obvious lessons to be learned. Viewers could easily comprehend Phillips’ determination to protect his crew, to do all in his power to save the ship and the lives of all on board.
Clearly, he used his wits to keep from drowning in the horror of all that was happening and to engage Abduwali Muse, “captain” of the Somali crew, sabotaging his commitment to bring back a ship at all costs. He faced horrifying terror, looked it in the eye, and refused to be terrorized. He would not be hijacked by an emotion that might render him powerless, defenseless, or filled with despair.
This was the surface story. Was there more to be gleaned from it? Could this be a parable of life, a parable for living? I wondered. Surely, Capt. Phillips could be seen as a savior of sorts, a messiah, so to speak. He was ready to give his life for the sake of others and he would do so nonviolently. His shipmates followed his lead, however reluctantly at first, because they recognized his authenticity. It was a clear message of discipleship for all who would journey together in faith.
As I pondered, additional thoughts surfaced. It seemed strange that piracy was still a danger on the high seas. I would have thought those days had ended with the demise of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Calico Jack, and others of their ilk. Yet, the raiding of the Maersk Alabama was real, planned, and almost successful. Questions followed. What if hijacking is happening on the sea of life? What is attacking and robbing us of life?
I thought about the sounds of Christmas music, jingles reaching my ears long before the Halloween candy has been consumed. I saw store clerks racing to display decorated trees and artfully arrange red and green cookies, candies, cakes and I knew that Advent had been hijacked. The quiet preparation time before birth had been pirated away, stolen by consumerism and greed masking as holiday spirit.
I thought about the doom and gloom folks who plunder optimism with dire predictions and threats of looming disaster. Their negativity erodes optimism and trust that all will be well. It affects the courageous spirit and infects it with a pernicious anemia — a bloodlessness that causes faith to pale, if not faint away.
I thought about the ways in which I hijack precious time, the grace of the present moment, with giddy nonsense too easily labeled joy. Too often, I choose not to postpone pleasure but use it to excuse myself from tasks I’d rather not do, obligations I’d rather not meet, even people I’d rather not see. I hijack others every time I choose me first.
We talk about the online piracy involved in downloading movies and music from the Internet, never considering how those acts rob artists of their work, their ideas, their unique gift to the world, not to mention their livelihood. Worse yet, we do it in real space as well as cyberspace. We do it every time we deny the source of a thought. We do it every time we avoid affirming each other, every time there is no acknowledgment of wisdom or understanding to be found in another’s musings.
Pirates are no longer the peg-legged, swashbuckling figures of old, with squawking parrots perched on their shoulders. Hijacking is not restricted to commandeering a plane and its passengers for ransom or looting a ship. We are robbing our world, God’s creation, of its goodness in multiple ways. We are holding creation ransom rather than acting responsibly to empower its life.
Every time we succumb to necrotic statements such as “I can’t,” “I don’t,” “I won’t,” positive attitudes are hijacked. We are left bereft. Our shipmates in the vessel of life are equally deprived.
Capt. Phillips was a responsible leader. He was a responsible family man, morally accountable for both his personal family and his family of shipmates. He would not allow himself to be hijacked into irresponsibility or cowardice or treacherous behavior. He would not permit any personal prejudices to color treatment of his captors. He would not be forced into a different destination by any death-dealing thoughts, words, or actions.
The movie drew to a close. Unbidden tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t understand why I was reacting this way. Was it the intensity of the film that drained me and provoked this expression of profound emotions? The answer came swiftly in sentences flashed across the screen at the conclusion to the story. I don’t remember the exact words. Paraphrased, they were: “Captain Phillips went back to sea in 2010.”
My tears flowed because his courage was not the mettle of a moment. It was the core of a lifetime. He would go back to life at sea because he could not let the sea of life be hijacked. He could not allow life to be diminished by terrorism. He could not permit the boundless anger of another human being evoke boundless anxiety in him. He would live in the jaws of death and find life.
Will we do the same?
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at grammistfran@gmail.com.