Split Personality

Shortly after returning from two plus weeks in Africa, I set out on a Mediterranean cruise with my wife and three other couples. Those that know me, know that a luxury cruise anywhere on a ship that serves thousands is not on my bucket list.  But, for good reasons I willingly went.  So, it is no surprise that the juxtaposition of the two events, one for my job to rural Uganda, Ghana and the Nairobi slums, immediately followed by one for with my family, a Mediterranean cruise experience to exotic ports of call had my mind reeling.  Some might suggest it fits my split personality.  I am a Gemini, though that is no fault of my own. 

I have been lucky. I have a comfortable life.  I have had terrific jobs. I have a great family.  Yet, ever since I was a young man and maybe just because of my good fortune, I have always yearned for the experience(s) that would validate my luck and teach me something I needed to know; offer me a purer understanding of myself. The unknown over the horizon has always beckoned me.  Like the experience of the protagonist in Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, I have ached for something uplifting, something sacred in places beyond the horizon of my back porch, something that would help me understand the world and myself just a little bit better. In an odd way the cruise helped.

On a cruise you only unpack once and you get to go to interesting places.  But, that is not it.  The in-between, the actual cruising is even fun in its own oddly comic way. This too is not it. The sea is beguiling, especially at sunset. But that is not it either. Certainly, being with family and friends is wonderful. Not it, but close. The fact is, even though a cruise can be fun, at the same time I find the experience somewhat off-putting. The food is plenteous, though marginal.  That is not it.  The on-board entertainment benign. That is not it. The crew is always nice, especially those on the dining and hotel side of the business, often hailing from the places I visit for work.  That is not it either.

The fact is the cruise helped me because the experience was the polar opposite from my experience on the job for the Greater Impact Foundation and the excess of the cruise in juxtaposition with life for those at the bottom of the pyramid crystallizes one’s priorities.  If that is not a Gemini’s brain at work, I do not know what is.

Never ending food is a staple of cruising.  Not so where poverty is pervasive.  It seems that some of the gluttony on-board is as well.  Not so where incomes are below subsistence levels.  The inane entertainment is a cruise staple, though vacuous it does not divert one’s attention from the fact that entertainment of any grade is out of reach for those existing hand-to-mouth.  A cabin with a balcony and sublime sunsets is a stark reminder of those with no roof over their heads. The ports of call offset the monotony of the sea, but they distract you but for a brief interlude.  Then you are back on board, back in that finite world of cruising, wrapped in a floating manmade cocoon designed to misdirect you while it insidiously consumes your disposable income.  Yet, amazingly, all of this contradiction heightens one’s awareness and in that perverse way reinforces the beauty of the GIF mission.  Cruising somehow reinvigorates my energy to return to my work.  Like Henderson in Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, I seem to have to always relearn this the hard way.

So, in fact, cruising is good for me.  It informs my psyche.  It reinforces my conviction.   It reminds me of my luck.  Oddly, it teaches me what is truly important in life.  Only a Gemini could see the downside of cruising as a good thing.