Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Aye, aye, Starbuck, 'tis sweet to lean sometimes"

I had a glass of wine with M on Friday. I told her I was reasonably certain I had decided upon a therapist to see.
"But k," she said, "you hate shrinks."

"Not true—I never knew any." 
She asked why I had decided to see a Shrink Lady, and I told her how difficult it is to be truly close to someone. It's not so much that I hate intimacy, I said, I just don't see the point. M laughed very hard at this.

Relying upon others is very difficult. Be that as it may, even Captain Ahab could not avoid it. At the end of Moby-Dick, the Pequod chases the white whale for three days before meeting its final doom. The whale has chewed through another ship and has destroyed Ahab's leg for a second time. Ahab, finding it difficult to stand on his splintered ivory leg, relies upon Starbuck, first mate, moral hero, and only member of the crew willing to question Ahab's judgment. 
But when he was helped to the deck, all eyes were fastened upon him; as instead of standing by himself he still half-hung upon the shoulder of Starbuck, who had thus far been the foremost to assist him. His ivory leg had been snapped off, leaving but one short sharp splinter.

"Aye, aye, Starbuck, 'tis sweet to lean sometimes, be the leaner who he will; and would old Ahab had leaned oftener than he has."
Had old Ahab learned to lean, he might have unwoven the curse that overhung his head.

It is, naturally, untrue to say that Ahab depended upon no one. He needed his crew, for example. Had they mutinied, he could not have carried out his monomaniacal plan. He needed the owners of the ship to recognize his ability and entrust the ship and crew to his leadership. Etc. etc. Needing others is not the same as leaning on them. When Ahab leans on Starbuck, he—without asking—shifts the burden of his weight onto Starbucks's shoulder so that, temporarily, Starbuck bears his own weight and that of Ahab.

As he rests upon Starbuck's shoulder, Ahab seems to recognize how very different he might have been—more like Starbuck, perhaps—had he leaned oftener on others. Had he shared his burdens with friends or with his wife; had he married sooner; had he chased after human company instead of a whale that cared nothing for him: had he been otherwise, perhaps all else would have been otherwise. Ahab seems to see this and forbids Starbuck from chasing Moby Dick. If only Starbuck can be kept safe, sent back to his loving family, then perhaps Ahab can be redeemed. In the end of course, Starbuck is forever separated from his beloved Mary, and it is indeed Ahab's fault. 

So this is why I am seeing the Shrink Lady. I want to learn to lean on others before it is too late. Who knows how many others I might hurt by refusing to depend upon anyone?

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