I have not finished the harrowing story of John Aldrich’s fall into the sea—off his fishing vessel the Anna Mary—because my daughter is reading it to me. She’s a journalism major, and A Speck in the Sea was assigned to her as an exemplary piece of feature writing that she could surely learn from, if she took notice of its deceivingly simple complexities.
The story is open on my desktop, and I could easily finish the rest of it myself, in service of writing to you here, about the wisdom I’ve already noticed in this amazingly well-written piece. But my daughter is reading the story to me, and though we have no formal deal about whether I am free to finish it on my own, I’m waiting for our next jaunt in the car together, so we can experience the tale together, with her voice connecting us one to another and to the story.
There is no spoiler in telling you what comes right at the start of the story. John Aldrich finds himself flying backwards into the sea, right off the back of his fishing vessel. It is 3 o’clock in the morning, and no one knows he is gone, until the sun rises on an empty deck. What follows so far is wisdom-rich and heartbreaking, even if one suspects that he has survived to tell the story.
More times than I can now count, my daughter has been overcome with tears, unable to go on reading this long piece, until she breathes deep. My heart breaks, alongside hers, and we become mother and daughter on the same journey, even though we are different people from different generations.
I’ve been struck throughout the piece. Aldrich has a survivor’s spirit. But this is evident in more than just his wish to survive. He takes stock of his situation, uses the few tools at his disposal differently than others might. He takes stock of his situation again. He goes in directions that seem to be moving backwards, in order to reach towards rescue. Out of love, he plans a way for others to find his body, once he realizes he is at the end of his strength and resources.
In today’s reading, something else besides Aldrich’s ways struck me: the wisdom of the fishermen. More than 20 commercial vessels, when they heard the news of “man overboard”, gave up their time and their day’s wages to search for Aldrich. I thought to myself, they understand what many do not understand about life: we are in this together.
Not every man on every commercial vessel that offered to search for Aldrich had a personal connection to him. Doubtless, there were some who didn’t even know the man’s name. Maybe there were a few who could never have pictured themselves as his friend. Perhaps he’d had words with several. Surely that would be the case with his long-time friend Sosinski, co-owner of the Anna Mary, whom he’d known since boyhood, and who was now trying to organize the search pattern for the 20+ vessels, while alternately picking up Aldrich’s license and staring at it, then saying aloud: Where are you, John?
In our own lives, maybe we hold differences with others. Can’t ever picture them as friends. Maybe we’ve had words with them. Maybe there is no point of connection and never will be. But can we see how we are in this together? Doing so might feel impossibly complex, but there are always a few simple acts of human noticing, kindness, and material gesture that we have at our fingertips, despite the state of or our relationship one to another.
I am still waiting for the end of the story, though I have no deal with my daughter stipulating that I must wait. The fishermen of Montauk have no formal deal with one another, had no deal with Aldrich either. They didn’t have to leave their day, lose their wages, go backward for a while, so to speak, to search for a man who was surely going to turn up dead.
But wisdom sees beyond deals. This, too, is what strikes me today.
Photo by Joe Hayhurst, Creative Commons, via Flickr.