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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

So Much As it has Pleased Thee

Samuel Johnson, Timothy Cutler, and Thomas Bradbury Chandler
Early Priests of the American Church


Dawn off Barbados
This morning, we arrived at our first port of call, Barbados, having been at sea all day yesterday.  Invigorated by being aboard ship again, or perhaps just not used to a new bed, I woke up before dawn, grabbed my camera and meandered through the empty corridors looking for coffee and a spot to watch the sunrise.  I love the chance to explore the ship when very few of my fellow passengers are afoot, as it also give me the chance to photograph the public spaces without intruding on other peoples' vacations.   

This ship is fairly typical of those being built in the early 2000's.  She carries about 2,400 passengers, and most of her public spaces are located either fairly low in the ship or on the very top two decks, with four levels in between devoted almost exclusively to cabins so that the vast majority of them can sport private balconies.  We have one of these for the first time: earlier voyages were either on a tighter budget or (in the case of our transatlantic voyage in April of 2004) in a season and place when the weather conditions would not warrant the expense.  I chose our room specifically: located on the edge of a semicircular "bump" that extrudes from the side of the superstructure, it afforded us a slightly larger balcony than normal, just enough to let both of us stretch our legs out a bit.  Unfortunately the extra space did not come with extra furniture: we have two upright chairs and a miniscule table, so it is not quite as conducive to lounging as I had hoped. 

As luck would have it, we will be the only ship at each of our five ports of call.  This makes me happy in the sense that we will not be competing heavily for taxis, tours and shops, but I also do like seeing other ships and photographing them. 

I have been asked repeatedly why we did not choose one of the newest or largest vessels coming down the ways: this line's newest ship, the Oasis of the Seas is so big that it boasts various different "neighborhoods" (I can't help but wondering if any of them are "rough") as well as a zipline and a full-sized carousel.  Frankly, the idea of 5,400 people invading a small Caribbean island all at once is not particularly appealing, especially as the ship is too large to dock everywhere and requires the use of tenders to shuttle passengers ashore.  In addition, the ship is on the most mundane itinerary the Caribbean has to offer, and -- since the majority of us have been here before -- we wanted something a little more exotic.    

Catamaran Crew
I had done some homework in the months leading up to our voyage.  I am a big fan of cruisecritic.com, because it enables you to connect in advance with other people who will be on your particular sailing and ask questions about the ship and itinerary from more seasoned cruisers.  In our case, there are over 50 people, either users of the website or their traveling companions, so we did quite a bit of bonding before even setting sail. 

Yesterday, I met a number of them at a planned event in one of the lounges.  Today, three parties from that group as well as two other members of my entourage went on a catamaran tour that one of the "critics" had researched in advance.  We had a fantastic time, skimming along the smooth waters off the coast to an inlet where giant turtles lurk.  We got to snorkel with them, and they are apparently pretty used to people because they did not seem bothered in the least.  Two young brothers in our group had a waterproof camera and were deep-diving to get better shots, which they shared with me later

Giant turtle off Barbados.  Courtesy of Grandmaison family
Unfortunately the day was not without a casualty: one of the husbands in our group lost his wedding ring while in the water, and -- despite the efforts of the boat's captain and the brothers -- it was not found. 

Later this evening, we had some more serious business to deal with; in fact, the impetus for our trip.  After we set sail again from Barbados, we met with two officers of the ship at an appointed time and were escorted below to the aft mooring deck, a spot normally not accessible to passengers.  There, after a Certain Party led us in a brief prayer service while a handful of the ship's crew looked on, we were permitted to scatter a portion of Henry's ashes overboard into the ship's wake, followed by handfuls of rose petals thoughtfully provided by the Company.  It was one year to the day since his death. 

For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his ashes to the deep in sure and certain hopes of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

This simple and yet powerful ritual marked the end of a year of "firsts": holidays, birthdays and other events where we were keenly reminded of his own contributions or strong opinions about such things were supposed to be done, and the hole left by his absence.  As we moved through the seasons, each of us mentally "bookmarked" these occasions, particularly when we got into the summer, when each milestone was already clouded by his illness.  

But the ship keeps moving.  We had originally been told that they might either slow down or stop, but as it turned out, that was not the case, and -- in a way -- I'm glad.  It symbolizes the fact that time stops for no one, and -- while we will obviously never stop missing him -- this was the "last first" when it comes to Henry.  He was not one to wallow in the past, and wouldn't condone us doing so either.  His life -- and his death -- changed us, and we carry those marks with us, but we also have to be ready to keep living fully into whatever is meant to happen next.  The ship keeps moving, and we move with it.

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