Dangerous Thinking

Larry from our neighboring yacht Tao 8 is a wiry guy, his bolding head behind thin-rimmed glasses feathers out into a set of five lonely dreadlocks hanging over a wrinkled neck. He is fiercely and patriotically Canadian. His hyper intellectual brains must have absorbed just about any linear knowledge there is to be had in this universe and whenever willing subjects with half open ears are near him this treasure trove of scientific wisdom bubbles out in Canadian accented English with just a slight hint of lisping. He jumps from lectures of microbiology to industrial paint manufacturing procedures to detailed descriptions of car models, including year of manufacture and orientation of the engine drive shaft. When it comes to his other fellow human beings though, most of them are deemed stupid and utterly ignorant. They simply don’t get it.

In spite of this deep-rooted and quite precarious splurge of excessive self-confidence emanating from the guy I must admit that I’m subject to an unwavering fascination towards this cranky fellow. My unconditional admiration of anything out of the ordinary in humankind around me must be bulging wickedly through the layers of my subconscious to rise to such unconditional pardon of all arrogance. Larry and wife Angie are definitely one-ofs, both just entering their sixties, when most of their peers, those who have made it so far, turn frail and succumb to the frustrations of retirement, those two look back to fifteen years of cruising just about every corner of the globe in their steel sloop painted dark blue like the deep waters beneath her keel. They have snorkeled any clear patch of water within reach and then some murky ones too. At their golden age you should not be surprised to find them backpacking across entire continents and whenever that’s not on their daily agenda you’ll find them scouting out and living in places where no others dare to even think of setting foot, all the while logging a massive amount of sea miles under their keels. The most incredible of all this however is that they seem to possess a retrievable memory of just about every minute of it. Tea or coffee time with Larry and Angie is a never-ending string of elaborate anecdotes full of cleverly arranged details, always with a slight twist of self-celebration just below the threshold of annoyance, but most certainly each and every one of them sheer fun to listen to and quite a generous percentage of them truly informative.

When it comes to the theory of life and the image of ourselves though Larry is clearly a child of the 1970’s when life in the human mind was still clearly and neatly separated from death by a bulwark of scientific formulas, which explained in tireless details of quite cruel precision why and how all things move around us, calculating trajectories of earthly and heavenly bodies within the space time continuum to the nth fraction of the uncertain unit of measurement for time, without understanding that the observer’s motion and his precarious point of view can substantially alter or even destroy altogether quite any of those intrinsically complicated theories the disconnected mind comes up with when we are motivated by economic feasibility. My feverish and admittedly sometimes quite acrid thirst for truth clashed early on with Larry’s classy classicist and almost purely Aristotlesque, but certainly matter of fact bound view of the world. During one of our first focused discussions I probed his brain for any understanding of truth and its utmost importance as the only means to guide our conditioned and blindfolded minds. All I was able to find there was the most normal and most cowardly evasive of all explanations: That there is no truth as such, that it all depends of the point of view. My truth is therefore different from his truth, he set out to reason, revealing quite a gruesome sense of comfort within the soothing isolation of the contemporary individual, disconnected not only from the source of life, but also from his or her own self. I have learned to crack that nut before and my passionate and meticulous deconstruction of the spotty rational behind this selfishly individualistic philosophy apparently did cause some leakage in Larry’s watertight theorem. Next time we met he had turned to the British Encyclopedia for inspiration towards the truth and to his amazement he found there that the definition for this most meaningful of all words had filled many pages. Apparently the entry for truth is one of the longest ones in this vast repository of human knowledge squeezed between two cardboard covers.

Whenever a chance was at hand I kept insisting with Larry, as I would with the religious zealots on this island, that to get any closer to the truth you have to close the books. There is no book on this wonderful earth written by the human hand, as they all quite obviously are, that can lead our enslaved mind to the light of truth. For that you need to close those dusty lids and look around you, free your thoughts of the past and let them dissolve entirely into the present time. It is for me a fascinating exercise when you make the mind stumble over its own faulty logic and suddenly wake up from intellectual slumber. Perception becomes dominant all of a sudden and heals many wounds of worry, but of course the devil, as usual, lies hidden in the details and Larry was never happy realizing his racing mind was trapped. “Where have you learned all this? I have never met anybody who thinks that way,’’ he exhaled desperately one day we were sitting in the midday shade under the palm tree with the sweet coconuts. Coconuts are sweet by nature, as you must be aware, but with this variety of cocos nucifera even the husk us refreshingly sweet. Chewing its fibers reminded me of the stringy, succulent pleasures of South America’s sugar canes. No pleasures were to be had for poor Larry, however. When I’m holding up a pale white coral fragment the size of my pinky, shaped loosely like the little ghosts in the black and white drawings of a children’s book, and ask him if he was really and absolutely sure that it is dead, he fumes: “Of course! It’s limestone, that’s all it is!” A chemical formula follows terminating in an invisible exclamation point, as to say: No more! My little self, enamored with, or more precisely infected with the plight of letting the spirit fly free, and by now the noble historical knowledge of mankind has degenerated to a clever projection, construed to justify greedy actions and potent repression in the very present we’re living in. Larry, who often times rattles of entire passages of history books as if it were the holy gospel of truth, can take no more. He stands up from the carpet of dead coral beads, hisses a few words of insult and disappears, leaving me in this ultra-high-tech multi-passenger airplane called freedom of thought all by myself and of course, it stalls, loses all lift and spirals downwards, free falling but helplessly caught in the forceful grip of gravity bound to crash so awfully soon into the merciless plane of conventions.

It’s the first time he walked out on me and ever since then our relationship has been tense and fickle, conversation is limited to smart sounding small talk. There is this eternal hopeless hope amongst us, that interpersonal issues like this will resolve by itself if let alone and I give in to it, betraying my most sacred conviction that conflict needs to come out into the light in order to be overcome. The two weeks timeout with us being away in the hospital nurtures more of that hopeless hope and now we’re sitting under Saitu’s neck-high tin roof, having coffee after Sunday service. Larry and Angie join after a short while. They’re definitely planning to leave tomorrow morning. They have finished up the four months foreigners are allowed to remain in the Cook Islands and plan to continue their journey to Samoa, looking for a place to leave their boat for a couple months and fly back to Canada to see their kids and grandchildren. The uneasiness sits all but forgotten in a dusty corner away from the limelight of honesty. Papa Saitu’s high-pitched laughter adorns his latest story of the first yacht ever to enter the lagoon of Penrhyn. He was an unruly boy at school at the time and the year was 1947. They had been sent to clean up the garbage around the schoolhouse, but were playing soccer instead. When the teacher, at that time one and the same as the priest of the London Missionary Church, gets wind of the flagrant abuse, he comes running pulling the belt from his pants and starts whipping whoever is within reach of his stubby arms. Saitu is a fast runner and escapes out to the beach on the seaside. His eyes full of the curiosity of youth immediately spot the rig of a sailing yacht dancing in and out of the wave troughs along the horizon. He runs back to his mates, who are still suffering the flagellations of the divine intermediary, and shouts out the news. The belt immediately remembers his more peaceful purpose of holding up the holy pants and everybody starts to prepare the welcome for those visitors from outer space. The wooden sailboat enters through the passage just to the North of Tetautua village and the crew of three comes on land. Saitu adds: “There was not immigration at that time!” There’s a collective sigh going around the table: “Wow! No immigration!” The story then continues with how they careened the boat up on the beach to repair some holes, how the crew went with the locals down to the other motu (island) to fetch a bunch of birds for the feast, and it ends with one of Saitu’s buddies falling off a tree, badly hurting his leg, so much so that it had to be cut off and when coming back to the village his mother hits her head with a stone to ease the pain of seeing her son mutilated like that. Not exactly a happy ending but the discussion continues along the meanderings of the Cook Island’s history, where Larry as usual vehemently refutes anything I might remember having read about it, and eventually returns to the amazing fact of no immigration way back then. I can’t help it but to branch out on a rant about mankind’s present rush towards societies of absolute control. Larry refutes that one too, mentioning four present dictators being harassed by their own people. I say that it is not a question of dictators nowadays, but one of the people accepting willingly their being controlled. All of a sudden Larry bursts out into a tirade of: “We’ve had that discussion before, I don’t want to go there, so you need to stop! Let’s talk about the weather.” His hand now hovers over the table with his trembling index finger pointing straight at me like a desperate handgun ready to spit out some smoke. My memory from then on is admittedly a little blurry, I guess the adrenaline levels rose just slightly, there must have been some insults flying around, I do remember trying to defend my freedom of speech, but before the situation got to the core of the matter, Larry stands up, walks away towards the water and turns the corner of Saitu’s hut towards invisibility. This is the second time!

After a long and painful stretch of silence I compose myself to: “Well, it looks like it’s time for us to leave!” We shake hands with Saitu, exchange hugs with his wife and Angie, wishing her a very nice trip, and then paddle Alunita back to our floating home. There, in calmness but out of reach of the actual problem, we’re trying to sort out what happened. What did I do to cause so much pain in poor Larry? Am I the cause of or am I the victim in this awkward situation? I’m aware that my unusual ways of thinking and my passion for expressing and dragging people along with me on those ways have caused many a friendship to turn to sour grapes, and Beatriz quite explicitly confirms that. Without being able to access the real problem outside I turn inward and feel no guilt, no shame, just sadness. It is a deep sadness that deplores our inability to overcome our petty personal differences and decries our unwillingness to uproot those seeds of violence nurtured by our disconnected minds.

It is Larry and Angie’s last day on the island. Tomorrow their yacht Tao 8 will set to sea. This is a way too sour note for a goodbye! Be this all my fault or not we cannot leave things like that. For me I would love to sit down with Larry and talk through the muck until we find what throws us off, but there’s obviously no time left for that. We decide to sweeten up that sour note a bit and set out to bake a cake. Beatriz has been experimenting with a deviation from the chocolate cake recipe in the cookbook that came with our pressure cooker. Cocoa powder is replaced with a good dose of Milo, of which we had bought a can back in Nuku Hiva, because it reminded Beatriz of her childhood in Bogota. Once the cake comes out of the oven we spice it up by opening the last of our jars of strawberry jam. It becomes a three-layered cake and we pack it in a recycled container and take it over to Tao 8, where Larry and Angie are busy hoisting the dinghy on board. The atmosphere is stiff and icy, but our gift is received. I’m not sure how much that alleviates our conscious by I guess it’s the gesture that counts.

The following day dawns up with thunder and lightning, black clouds cover the entire sky and isolated showers sweep over the village before heading out over the lagoon. Towards noon the weather clears up and from the pier we see Tao 8 raise her anchor, motor through a half turn until facing West and then raise her main sail. Slowly the triangular shape diminishes in size, moves towards the tiny specks of dark grey dancing on the horizon where the little islet lies just South of the pass with a count of a dozen or so coconut trees on it, and finally becomes one with them. What a beautiful sight it always is to see a sailboat leaving! What a slow and sweet way of saying goodbye!


One Response to “Dangerous Thinking”

  1. Thomas Says:

    It sounds like a battle of egos. Larry likes to have the last word (control) this may explain why he storms off in exasperation. Beat clearly likes to push buttons of which we may presume Larry has a few. The truth here is “Love conquers all”, and Beatrez pulls out the trump card with a chocolate cake and strawberries.
    I bow deeply to you, my sea monkey friends, for you are sailing into the world with zest for life. I love you guys.

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