On Social media there’s a meme that’s going around, at least in my small corner of that world.
I’ve seen a couple of versions. One is part of a larger poem by Damien Barr:
I heard that we are in the same boat.
But it’s not that.
We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
your ship can be shipwrecked and mine might not be.
Or vice versa.
The poem is longer and addresses the covid pandemic. Ultimately it is a call to attention and care.
I’ve seen other versions as a meme. Most commonly:
We are not all in the same boat. We are in the same storm. Some have yachts, some canoes and some are drowning. Just be kind and help whoever you can.
A simple google search fails to find a source for this version.
Other versions, again without clear sourcing, add a bit of finger wagging:
Stop saying that we’re all in the same boat. We’re all in the same storm. But we’re not all in the same boat.
It’s always good to feel superior to others, especially when we’re slicing and dicing an ancient truth, and we’ve noticed a wrinkle.
There are other versions, but this captures the gist of it. And it set me to thinking a bit about our shared condition and how that condition is going always to be different in each of our experiences. Two important points.
As to the original saying about being in the same boat. I dug around a bit.
It would appear the idea of us all being in “one boat” can first be attributed to Thomas Hudson, who in 1584 translated Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas’ historical poem, Historie of Judith. I am uncertain whether the image came from Du
Bartas or was original at least in the sense of being written down by Hudson. The two articles I looked at citing the usage then turn to an English clergyman Thomas Taylor (not to be confused with the neo-platonist thinker and translator, who lived a century later) who is quoted as saying “He is in the same boate which is tossed and threatned with the tempest, and is someway inteeressed in the common cause, and quarrell.” Neither article cites the source of this quote.
A third article asserts the phrase originated in the eighteenth century in Greece. A fourth suggests it arose out of reflection on the fate of the Titanic. These suggest to me when we’re trying to find the origin of a phrase we’re going to get more opinions than factual information.
There are a couple of important distinctions in shifting our common experience to the storm, and noting the boats and even lack of boats and their many differences.
Part of why I like the meme. We are in a storm. Always have been, since the beginning of time. And there are the unique storms of time and place. Mr Barr’s storm is a pandemic. Many of the other memes imply economic storm. We are all in the storm and storms.
The original image of being in the same boat sings into our hearts about our common condition. And I hope we don’t forget that. At some point we’re all in this together. And for many aspects of that “this” we desperately need each other.
But it is never completely fair or equal. Different boats for sure. So, that, as well.
Our condition is common. Common as dirt, common as a storm. And we’re each alone. Deeply, profoundly, some in yachts, some treading water, some sinking.
And in all of this from Barr’s poem to most of those memes we get a call is to a certain gentleness, to kindness.
Something that gets sneered at on occasion. And of course things are complicated. In this world the right call may not look all that kind. But as we unpack the word we see generosity of spirit, we see consideration for others, a broad spirit of sympathy. Playing with the likely etymology of our English noun “kind,” we find a sense of family, a sense of connection. Of course it’s the adjective we’re really considering. And it points to something natural, something innate, and it actually also seems to circle around to family, as well.
Here I find a profound pointer.
As Aldous Huxley said near the end of his life:
“It’s a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.”
And, of course, the Dalai Lama tells us:
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
On this vast sea, amidst the storm and storms, one boat and the many boats, we do need each other. We need to see the family of things. Whether one boat or many, that storm is raging, as well as the many lesser ones.
And our best bet, the small thing that may count for everything is how we find we relate to each other and with that the great world. The vast sea, the squalls, the doldrums, the great storms. And our small boat homes…
The illustration is by Barbara Kelley