All at Sea

When I look down at my wheelchair control, I can see a periodic jittering. Now and then the control arm shudders. There’s a rhythm to it. And although I can piece together what it is, what astounds me is how it works. Or that it works. To get the best explanation, I should really go down to deck 2 and get a good look at the Queen Mary II. The ship has small wings near the bow. They rotate up and down like the aileron of an aircraft. These little winglets are actually stabilizers. Sensors anticipate how the ship is rocking, or will rock, and they turn to flatten the effect. In other words, they are stabilizers. And they work remarkably well. Although, truth be told, they actually seem to convert the ship’s sideways motion into this shuddering vibration. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

Meanwhile, it keeps rolling. The north Atlantic. Old man river. Old man ocean. It is a vast thing, an ocean. it is also a vast thing, the Queen Mary. I’ve taken the thing several times, although never westbound, Southhampton to New York. Anyway, you would think I would get the lay of the nautical land. But it’s too confusing. The ship is just too big. It has too many decks. Too many nooks and crannies. And yes, the end of deck 8 should take you to the ship’s main theater, but not in a wheelchair. That’s the other side of the end of deck 8. That’s where the ramp is that leads to the library. And so on.

In June the North Atlantic is brisk. So is our clip. The ship moves along at about 22 kn. In other words, there is a breeze. Whether it’s mechanical or natural, anyone’s guess. Still, there’s a balcony. A room with a view of the endless rolling blue. No wonder people like doing this. It’s downright spiritual, or certainly contemplative. The sea does this anyway. When you’re on it, right in the middle of it, the sea does this all the time. Hardly a new reflection. This must be part of what lured so many to spend their lives in the Navy or the merchant marine. For me, it’s a wonderful time to be with my wife. And be with myself.

Travel is getting arduous. Because life is getting arduous. For everyone, of course. With a disability, it means changes in everyday things. How to use the disabled shower in our stateroom? I mean it’s not like I haven’t done this before. But I can’t quite remember is the details. Should I sit down on the foldout shower chair? Or should I stand and grab the handrails? I tried it one way this morning, doubtless another way tomorrow. There is another question. Could I do this without Jane? Really, if I ever wanted to, or needed to travel alone, could I use the shower? Safely. And that’s the reality that I find hard to accept. No. There’s a loss of balance. A loss of strength. A loss of confidence, and at least partly in the right sense. I can’t be too confident of my footing these days. If my foot feels like it might slip on the bathroom floor, I assume that it will slip. I am more cautious.

Still, we have to travel. David Hare’s play at the Duke of York’s theater in the West End, for example. On the surface, Hare tells the story of the Glyndebourne Festival, Britain’s famous summer opera in the Sussex Downs. But that’s only the surface. Yes, the geopolitics of the 1930s do echo our own. But more importantly, the play is about the relationships. And beyond that, the ideas that drove the people. That is to say, the mix of pettiness and idealism. That being an eternal story. That’s the thing about any great story, it resonates with something universal. And now I’m old and may never get to Glyndebourne. But I’m glad I got to what’s behind it. And that, at this point in life, may even be more satisfying.

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