It is a question I asked my children often when they were in high school and for a few years after. I still ask them once or twice a year, and when they ask me for advice (not often, but when they ask) the question above is always the opening query. Philosophy, for the little our education system teaches these days, is still the foundation for making sound decisions, and it is important for each person to remember what their own foundation is periodically. Some call it ‘centering’. I prefer ‘foundation’. One builds character on some foundation.
Consider the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs. Has your mind already jumped ahead to which of them had the stronger foundation of faith or belief to last out life’s storms? Do you already know who or what your own ‘Big Bad Wolf’ is? This simple childhood story represents Western philosophy education at its basic level and typically in the home. Then, there’s the popular culture book “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. What is taught in education today? A myriad of concepts come to mind and to discuss them would veer off my intent here. What is relevant is that each of us finds some level of commitment to some principle of life, and we move forward with our lives. Few venture beyond what was learned in middle school or high school, testing what they believe in their forays into their work or through their college years and beyond.
For all the years I asked the question of my children my point was to know what they chose to hold true from what their mother and I taught them, and what they picked up along the way on their own to strengthen or replace those lessons. It remains a question they don’t like answering,…yet. One day, I hope the example with have their own children squirming in a chair. This is not some sadistic plot but an effort to get them ready for their own ‘Big Bad Wolves’.
For all the asking of what they believe, they have never turned the question back on me. I can’t say why because it would be speculative, and that is always a mistake when building friendships. However, I have been doing some reading about how to continue to build this friendship with my children I am prompted by the author to answer the question posed for myself. In all my fifty-seven years, no one has ever asked me. I’ve been studying theology at the Master’s level for three years, and the question hasn’t come up there either. I’m certain my actions have demonstrated for those around me, especially my children, what I believe. The deeper answer is why?
“Why am I Catholic?”
Simple answer is, I believe. Sure, I was born and raised, schooled through grammar school. But I joined the Navy, for crying out loud, and stayed 20 years. With all I’ve seen, why ‘stay’ Catholic?
Because, for all I’ve seen, it is True, and the Church remains a repository of Truth, and that Truth is carried to every corner of society, every day of the year. The reason the Catholic social networks are as strong as they are is because the embodied spirits of the people let the life of Christ shine through in what they do, some a little, some a lot, and some in everything they do. Catholic health care makes up one sixth of the healthcare economy in the U.S. Catholic Charities is the largest relief organization in the world. The Catholic school system, from grammar school through high school, and into post secondary education, is the largest private school system in the world. These are the works of the Church that come from the faith.
What the public hears more of, though, are the sins of the Church. Of course, it’s what we expect. Two-percent of our priests have committed unspeakable acts in the past several decades. Movies portray these same servants in poor light since the 1960’s. Long forgotten is Pat O’Brian’s portrayal of Father Flanagan, founder of Boy’s Town in the 1940’s. The Exorcist was a pop-culture phenomenon and now a ‘new’ fall drama on a major TV network. Charlton Heston’s Moses in the 1956 Ten Commandments is now dependent on implied illusions of a child messenger because of Christian Bale’s bump on the head, a far more earthly portrayal of the myth-history. The modern stories of Saint Pope John Paul II and Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta can hardly keep up with the world’s reminders of our real sins and culture’s distortion of both our work and our theology. Zombies and vampires are somehow more believable than God becoming man and sharing our embodied spirit existence here on earth.
I still choose to believe. I continue to be inspired by the Spirit. I continue to hold that when I attend Mass I am at an intersection of this material world and the spiritual heaven. And in receiving what appears to many as only bread and wine, I affirm that it is the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God as described in the Gospels. It is both an act of Faith and an act of Will of my Conscience.
If you ask yourself the title question, what answer do you come up with?
The day began for one of my crew at 0200 when hurricane Hermine blew through the Tampa area. Brooksville, FL is near sixteen miles inland and on a rise above sea level around thirty-feet. The winds were fierce enough to blow over her shed and lightning knocked out power. Remarkably, when the shed went over it did not blow into the minivan sitting just beyond it and all the contents stayed where they were placed within it.
The coming storm was to be severe enough to last for several days and foul air travel up the east coast along its path. She had made arrangements to change her flight to Ohio and come earlier, hoping to avoid all the delays expected to result from the storm’s turbulent trek. Her effort paid off and the flight was delayed only by thirty-minutes. She arrived to sun, blue sky, and temperatures in the mid-60’s. What a remarkable change.
Still, a day that begins at 2am becomes a long day when it includes the displacement of a cross-country flight, hauling even a small bag, and shopping to buy an Ohio State jersey for the game. After all, that’s what this trip was supposed to be about; coming to her first Ohio State Football Game in Ohio Stadium! Sailing was only a side activity she hoped to enjoy as part of the extended weekend with us and her sister. Coffee and an hour relaxing in our living room and she and her mother were ready to take a ride on Lifeline.
We went by the grocery store and picked up a supper of submarine sandwiches, potato salad, pretzel chips, hummus, and sodas. Packed into a paper bag to help keep all cool we were off to the dock. The steady northerly breeze predicted was on time and brought others to the docks as well. There was a sense of anticipation at the marina and a growing activity as the Labor Day holiday weekend was beginning. Lifeline lay ready to work with us at her slip and was quickly made ready for getting under way.
We motored out around ‘B’ docks and out the channel. The wind on the water assured us of its northerly direction. There was no doubt it was blowing at 10+ with some ‘white’ caps noticeable; not too noticeable I hoped, else my crew might beg off. As we cleared the point of the east-west channel, the wind bumped us over on a bit of a heel. I had my daughter steer us into it and my wife and I raised the mains’l full. It would be enough for this ride up Alum Creek Lake. The sail climbed the mast easily, showing the adjustments I made to the mast worked well and the sail slides remained in their channel as designed. We fell off to starboard, set the main for a close reach. The motor was stopped and raised up. We were a sailboat now.
There was one northeasterly tack upwind. The wind was such that when we came about I could point Lifeline north and setting the main for a close-hauled starboard tack, I ‘rode the groove’ for the three miles to the causeway. The girls chatted and had supper, laughing, watching the sun, watching the other boats, and enjoying their ride. I ‘ate up’ the time I had at the helm, watching the tell-tales, the pennant at the masthead, and the luff of the sail to hold our course.
The wind was still steady from the NNE and bringing the boat about I could set the sails for wing-on-wing, main to starboard and a whisker pole for the jib. She was quite a site as she ran down wind and the other boats on the water simply parted as we neared. One, though, a 21′ speed boat decided to take a closer look. It’s driver circled us a hundred feet out from our hull and waved as he speed up the lake.
A wonderful sail concluded as the sun set and we entered the channel on a beam reach. The trees did the shadowing of the wind as I hoped, and we furled the sails as momentum took us into the harbor. We tied Lifeline up as the last streams of twilight faded from behind the trees.
It’s been three years since I began a formal program of study in theology. The longer I have engaged in it, of course, the deeper and more involved the work has become. It’s not that I’ve written less, rather my concentration and activity have been drawn away from the whimsy and self-expression of this web log to more detailed and directed works. Some of those I posted here early on, however I have been sparing any followers from the fifteen- and twenty-page theological works of the last couple of years. The reading for these alone has stretched my mind to limits I didn’t know I had and coming closer to completion (in May ’17, with some hard work) these limits are being pushed back further and further. All this reading and research precedes that which will accompany an eighty-page thesis.
Sailing ‘Lifeline’ on Alum Creek Lake has also been affected. Classes have been held on Wednesday evenings at the same time the boat club races are held. As I’ve been attending school year ’round it has meant missing race night for the second year running. And this year, I haven’t trailer’d ‘Lifeline’ out of the lake to the larger venue of Lake Erie.
All this to say the experiences that have driven half of my essays on FaithandFlag.Wordpress.com have been siphoned off to other efforts and for the foreseeable future will continue in the same manner.
That’s not to say I haven’t been writing, just posting shorter works on other venues. If you’re interested, you’ll find professional commentary in a series of fifty essays at www.linkedin.com/in/johnzoll where I’ve been sharing both industrial notes and managerial content. Also, By-Dawn’s-Early-Light at www.facebook.com/By is a site dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner. The recent posts there include comments on the controversy of whether our National Anthem is a racist poem, with links to CNN stories concerning the same.
(photo credit to the author. 1812 National Ensign is signed by the National Park Ranger who hoisted it over Ft. McHenry in June 2014. Signal flags are Charlie Mike and Bravo Zulu, welcoming grandchildren to our annual summer camp)
It had been over a week since the last time I stepped on deck. That evening was for a ‘full moon sail’. It occurred to me (finally) that I was between semesters at school and there was no book that needed read and no paper that needed writing. The lawn was mowed Monday. The rest of the chores could wait. Let’s see what wind is predicted. Ah…taxpayer dollars at work, the National Weather Service report for 43035, Lewis Center OH. Scroll down to the predicted atmospheric conditions (wind, humidity, dew point, rain, and lighting) and the typical August summer night numbers appeared; high eighties, high humidity, chance of rain and storms, and… ah ha! Winds south east at 5 diminishing to 3 by sunset.
Let’s go SAILING!
It was race night at the ACSA marina on Alum Creek Lake and I hadn’t been racing for over two years. I didn’t want to get out and get mixed in with those boats so I planned to arrive at 6:30. The boats and crews would be angling for their starts at the line by then. It proved to be so when I arrived at the marina. The docks were quiet except for one other crew. Lifeline, my Catalina 22, was resting at the slip quietly. She was all snugged up with her sail covers, motor tipped up and out of the water, and lines lying just slack. There wasn’t much more than a breath of air in the cove. I wonder if the winds died out earlier than predicted. The only way to find out was to get under way.
Lifeline loosed her sail covers and lines easily enough. It was stuffy down in the cabin, her having been closed up for ten days in 90 degree plus temps. Opening the forward hatch while motoring out scooped fresh air in and cleansed the dankness of the ‘down below’. The motor purred as we rounded the ends of the docks and headed for the channel.
The racing fleets’ sails proved the predicted direction of the more than ample breeze. The spinnaker boats were already rounding the first mark and the cruising fleet was surprisingly close behind. Somewhere in the mix was the Catalina 22 fleet with the ‘cruisers’ just coming to the line. The course was a ‘down and back’ on the east side of the lake. I would stay from center to the west side.
I already had Lifeline into the wind coming out of the channel. The sails leapt up the mast and forestay. They billowed out gently in the breeze and I turned left away from the fleets, onto a starboard tack. Lifeline responded and inched up to a two-knot pace over the water. Up the lake we went, and across, ‘til the wind was nearly shadowed by the eastern shore and a half mile north of where the fleets were rounding ‘B’ mark on their first leg. Time to come about and head down the lake.
There were an ample number of other watercraft on the water and these ‘motor-boaters’ were respectful of the sailboats, whether it was Lifeline and a few others cruising toward the Cheshire Causeway or the four fleets on the racing course. Most were not aware of how their wakes affected the sailboats’ steerage. When the light breeze we had died down, or if we steered into one of the many lulls, the wakes from the motor-boats brought some to a complete halt. Those missing the signs on the water and braked by the wakes had some time to contemplate their attention skills while waiting for the wind to freshen. Still, there were no close approaches by either type of boat to the others. It made for a safe evening.
Back across the lake and nearing the outer marker of the channel I’d come out of I noticed Lifeline was skimming across the water faster than most of the boats in the race. Two-and-a-half knots speed sets no record, but many of those boats racing were standing still. Being on the east side of the lake it was apparent they were fighting with the trees for the breezed. Too close into shore and the trees blocked the wind entirely from the sails. In the middle and on the west side of the lake the cruisers could enjoy the evening with little thought to sailing tactics and strategy.
All the way down the lake to where the racing fleets were rounding the ‘A’ marker and past the swimmers on the beach, Lifeline moved over the water as a cloud across the sky. Some minor adjustments to the sails were the only movement made. As the sun slipped lower and lower into the orange and amber sky we came about again and made the trip once again. Up the lake, then back to the channel, a quiet evening was enjoyed. The racers joined the cruisers as they crossed the finish line and twenty or more sets of sails dotted the lake through sunset. Lifeline surrendered her sails to their stowage and covers and I steered her into the cove to her slip. She’d given me a fine ride once again.
It was good to be with the fleets again, even if I was observing rather than racing. There were smiles shared across the water and on the pier. Some handshakes, one hug, and some polite ‘hello’s exchanged let me know that through a long absence good acquaintances remained firm. But then, this is a sailing fleet, and no matter the span of time, a shipmate is always a shipmate. The interdependence of those that necessarily have to be independent weaves the canvass of the sailing community.
A west-southwesterly breeze graced the water this evening, though I wouldn’t know it until I left the slip and the inlet. It was stifling there, on deck, as I tightened the rigging. My stays were still loose from stepping the mast. An earlier sail in light winds showed the severe slack of the steel lines on the lee’ side. None of that this evening. The predictions were for winds up to ten, gusts above that. These lines need proper tending. A small crescent wrench and a screw driver, and ten or so turns on each turnbuckle are made. I tightened down the jam nuts on each. Pools of salty water formed on the deck where I worked. There, now, they are taut. Not tuned for racing, but taut and safe for sailing. Time to get under way.
The mains’ l cover removed, the ‘Donate Life’ foresail hanked on, the motor purring and pouring out its necessary stream, I loosed the lines and motored out, around the end of ‘B’ dock from the back-side, past my neighbors across the pier, then down past ‘D’ and ‘C’. ‘Dolphine’, ‘Penguin’, and dozens of others remained at rest this Friday night. I suppose most were still resting from the holiday on Monday.
The channel markers looked oddly placed, and I wondered if the higher water or the rise and fall of it over the summer to now had pulled up some anchors. One red marker is showing the strain, as the inner foam ‘popped’ the top off. I zigged, then zagged out to the lake and noted the wind on the water. The calm of the small bay to the south invited me to raise my sails there. I steer to starboard, come nearly full about into the drafts coming down off the trees.
Now, I have yet to install a tiller minder on the new tiller handle, so as I move about the deck Lifeline is rocking, and the tiller therefore shifting. A sail-slide popped out of the track and I had to step up to make the adjustment. Lifeline fell off the wind to starboard, what sail was up caught what little draft there was, and I was sailing before I was ready. I let that slide go, stepped back down, adjusted course, and finished raising the main. Underway! Rusty and rugged, for the second time this summer, Lifeline is riding the wind.
I fell off to starboard, rounded away from the outer marker I drifted down to while raising the canvass, and ran down wind. The promised breathe for the evening matched the predictions, and more. A few other sails dotted the water. Three were working toward the Cheshire causeway. Another two beating about the south end toward the dam. Someone was reaching across Galena inlet on a fluorescent pink sailboard. Only two power boats broke the silence of the wind.
‘Round the compass I sailed, studying the sheets, cueing on the tell-tails, watching the rig as well as the water. Only seven sailing events last year and only the second in this one, my muscles aren’t tuned to Lifeline any more than the steel of the rigging was. Take it slow, take it easy, test each maneuver. Listen to her. Are the sails singing? Is the keel board haul humming at 2kts like she used to? What new creaks and groans are coming from the hull? What is the symphony Lifeline is playing this year? ‘Round the compass again, tack over and away from the boat adrift, tack over again away from the on-coming sail, tack over again toward the dam and into the wind. Each movement, each motion shakes cobwebs off the mast and the stiffness from my arms and legs. Breathe…………
An hour of beating upwind and exercising Lifeline and I was ready to run back up the lake and down with the wind. The main and jib out to starboard, the ‘Donate Life’ now on the backside of the foresail couldn’t be helped, I took a broad read on a port tack, steered for the middle of the lake, and slid back to rest and ride with a steady pouring of air over my left shoulder. Breathe……..
Riding up the lake as the sun was coming down shown the orange and yellow and red of the evening light. I came about to return to port, and that light shown on the sails the shadow of Lifeline’s rig. It was the perfect light to show a perfect shadow, and a chance to imitate art Jeff Benedict created once. I trust Providence is foreshadowing more breathing for the remainder of the season.