Aboard the Rainbow Warrior: Life loves to walk us in circles

Rainbow Warrior

Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I’ve just walked up the gangway onto the Rainbow Warrior here in Keelung, Taiwan. Four years ago nearly to the day, I sailed upon this ship’s maiden voyage. It was an immeasurably magical experience, marked by extraordinary companions.

I recently noted the coincidence of dates on Facebook, and a friend responded with something beautiful: “Life loves to walk us in circles.”

Well, I’m grateful for this circle returning to its start, and for other circles that are just beginning. Most of the folks walking up the gangway today have done so for the first time. This trip is a training voyage, a short sail out to an anchorage where we’ll role play a couple of at-sea actions, pushing people way out of their comfort zones. It’s an amazing programme and an invaluable introduction to a world that has no set playbook. Over the next week, the trainees will be hit with every curve ball, every rogue wave, every freak occurrence we can muster to simulate the reality of life at sea. They’ll be physically exhausted from climbing the ship in mock boarding exercises, slamming over the waves in a rigged-hulled inflatable boat, and being hit by water cannons. They’ll be mentally exhausted from lack of sleep and the stress of planning and executing actions that involve huge risks. They may be seasick. They may be homesick. There’s a safe word that will make it all go away if it gets to be too much. But there’s no safe word on a real action.

Many of the trainees from the last training I was part of ended up as members of the “Arctic 30,” the crew of the Arctic Sunrise who ended up being illegally seized by the Russian government and held for months in jail. One of those activists, Faiza Oulahsen, was seasick throughout an action that she was running. She pushed through it. No safe word for her. She briefed the crew on how the action was going to go down with a bucket by her side. I’ve seen tough — but that was tough.

As it turned out, the simulation we ran ended, by sheer coincidence, with the Arctic Sunrise being boarded by commandos and seized — and the images of that training are scarily like the actual events.

One of the rules of the training is that everything we throw is real — it’s happened before. But what we can’t predict is what among the events that unfold here in training might actually come true for any one of these participants. Life loves to walk us in circles.

I cast the I Ching to ask what awaits us this trip, and the response is wind. Wind doubled. Wind over Wind, the Gentle. The Image reads “A moment’s breeze is of no consequence. Yet the ceaseless wind moves mountains.” It speaks to me of constancy. Of the constant pressure of all the forces that propel this ship forward, from the donors who bought every bolt on the hull to the millions of people and organisations and volunteers who share a vision of a better world, to every act of courage that champions change. It’s an unceasing, gentle sirocco that flattens mountains, moves rivers, and is changing the face of the Earth.

That’s a fine hexagram to mark any voyage’s beginning. Or, when life walks us in a circle, its end.

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