There’s a turn in Dougal Robertson’s Survive The Savage Sea that really touched me. It comes on the family’s 25th day as castaways: the sea calms down and there’s a “glorious sunset and a peacefulness of the spirit.” The group takes turns singing songs to each other. And then:
I felt that we had already gone beyond thinking in terms of survival. We had started living from the sea as an adapted way of life… we no longer thought of rescue as one of the main objectives of our existence; we were no longer subject to the daily disappointment of a lonely vigil, to the idea that help might be at hand or was necessary. We no longer had that helpless feeling of dependence on others for our continued existence. We were alone, and stood alone, inhabitants of the savage sea.
Nina Katchadourian talks about how much of the book (her favorite) is really about what it’s like to be a family, and I think that’s why this scene touched me so deeply.
There are moments with children, even in a boring, safe, suburban existence like mine, where you just feel like you’re in Survival Mode. And every once in a while it lifts and you feel like you’ve moved beyond just surviving, and you feel like you’re actually living. The children eat their food. You all tell stories and laugh. Books after tubs with no whining. You’re a quartet, and you’re all performing the same music.
The reasons these evenings are so wonderful is because they are so rare, and in such stark contrast to those Survival Mode days, when you’re just trying to get rid of the day as well as you can.
I’m now thinking about a passage that comes later in the “Analysis” section, when Robertson offers his thoughts on surviving in castaway situations:
If any single civilized factor in a castaway’s character helps survival, it is a well-developed sense of the ridiculous. It helps the castaway to laugh in the face of impossible situations and allows him, or her, to overcome the assassination of all civilized codes and characteristics which hitherto had been the guidelines of life.
“A well-developed sense of the ridiculous”—I cannot think of a better trait for a parent!