After meaning to read Moby Dick for years and years, I finally cracked it open a few weeks ago and I was immediately rewarded for my efforts when, on the first page, I read a passage that deeply resonated with me. Ishmael, the protagonist of Herman Melville’s classic, states:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
I love this passage because of its excellent use of metaphor (who doesn’t know exactly what Melville means as he describes the “damp, drizzly November in my soul”?), and for its humor in the discussion of darkness (the image of a man running through a street “methodically knocking people’s hats off” cracks a wry smile), but most of all, I love this passage because it pushes me to self-reflection. It calls me to ask: what is my sea? When I’m feeling depressed and irritable, where must I go to right my spirits?
This is a question worth considering for all of us.
Maybe, like Ishamel, there is a physical place that soothes and calms us. It could be a geographic spot—the mountains, the ocean, the forrest—or it could be a favorite museum, historical site, or even a street that we love to stroll down. Or maybe, the place that grounds and reorients us isn’t a specific location, but rather, the company of a dear friend, a life partner, or a mentor. We all have those people in our lives whose presence has the ability to tame the worst and bring forth the best in us.
Alternatively, maybe our “sea” is a book, a poem, or a piece of music that we return to again and again for wisdom, perspective and comfort. Or maybe our sea is a spiritual practice, a form of exercise or a hobby—something we do with our body, our mind, or our voice that reminds us of who we are, why we are here, and what gives us meaning.
When life gets the better of him, Ishmael knows what he must do to sort himself out: he must get to the sea. Do you know what you must do? Consider what place, person, object or activity grounds you and encourages you, and don’t be afraid to turn to it next time you feel “grim about the mouth.”
We all must find our sea.
Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.