Francis Meyrick

A Blip on the Radar (Part 13) “The Lady in Blue “

Posted on October 19, 2009

A Blip on the Radar

Part 13: The Lady in Blue

I try hard, not always successfully, to live by my own maxims.
One of these goes like this:
never mock what you don’t understand.
It has to do with respect I guess. Other people’s religious and spiritual beliefs may seem strange, unreal, but if they are their cherished beliefs, then who are we to cast forth mockery and doubt. We should respect a sincere faith, not because we share it ourselves, but because another human being does so. Admittedly, there are limits. But that applies to the inevitable extremists. In my own experience, most folk who revere the Virgin Mary are far from extreme. They come from all sorts of walks of life, ranging from the simple to the most educated. My own oldest brother, an acoustical engineer, was a devout Roman Catholic. With what the Catholics call a ‘special devotion’ to the Virgin Mary. I well remember his excitement on the phone. They had collected enough funds to build a brand new church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I tried to keep my big mouth shut, and listened to him, happily chattering down the phone.
I refrained from asking why they so desperately needed yet another church in Holland. In fact, I seem to remember I said as little as possible on the subject. All I know is that the Bible never elevated Mary to the status the Catholics do. So it seems a bit… maybe over the top? But what do I know? Not-a-lot.
Oh, well. To each his own.
Never mock what you don’t understand…

I remember working on a Korean boat. I went for my first exploratory ‘walk about’ on my new home. Holy Smokes! There was a shrine to the Virgin Mary. It was along a corridor. Shadowy, with an eerie flickering of lights and candles. I paused. Curious. My irreverent thoughts were puzzling as to what in hell’s name the Virgin Mary was doing on a Korean boat? Obviously, the lady can go where she pleases, but I imagine she would be more welcome some places than others. A shrine? Complete with a four foot statue, lights and candles? On a Korean boat? Well, maybe they were Catholics. And with that infernal curiosity of mine, that has got me into endless troubles all my life, I had to go and ask.
I finally located the Korean radio operator. I asked were they Catholics? No. How about the shrine to the Virgin Mary?
He looked blank. The phrase ‘Virgin Mary’ meant nothing to him. Our Lady? Blank look. Mary? Another blank look.
Eventually. OH! “You mean Lady in Blue “?
Yes, I mean Lady in Blue. That one. What’s the scoop?
He answered carefully: “Before. American ship… Crew…. Portugal. Lady in Blue… belong to them. “
I thought back to the immaculate, clean shrine. Not a speck of dust or dirt. The candles, glowing in the half light. The obvious respect from the Koreans for the ‘Lady in Blue’. I got the picture. The Koreans on this boat lived by the same maxim. Don’t mock what you don’t understand…
The ‘Lady in Blue’ may have been an inherited accoutrement, dating back from when their company had first purchased the ship, but they weren’t about to pitch her in the garbage. As far as they were concerned, she had done a damn fine job, and kept everybody alive and the boat intact. They showed the “Lady in Blue ” every respect, kept the shrine immaculate, dusted her off when needed, and kept the candles lit. They knew nothing about her. And yet, they knew everything…

A year or so later, I was in big trouble. We all were. There were about eighteen of us, pilots, mechanics, and some other crew members, all packed into this open launch. It had an outboard engine, way under powered, struggling to make headway against gale force winds. All around us, the waves were increasing in size, eight foot, ten foot, and spray was flying. None of us wore life jackets. There were none on board. At the helm was a young Solomon islander, a teenager perhaps, and his face showed strangely white. I was sitting in the bow, getting soaked, looking aft, and I could sense he was scared. The boat was quiet. Normally, when you have three Tuna Dudes together, never mind eighteen, you have wise cracks and ribald humor, piss taking and practical jokes. Not here. Everybody was aware of land -Honiara- disappearing behind us. Ahead of us, in what roughly passed for a bay, but what was actually more of a slight curve in the coast line, there lay our various destinations. Tuna purse seiners, waiting for us. They had finished offloading their cargo, whilst we lucky ones had gone ashore, three days earlier, for some beer drinking, tall story telling, women chasing, whoop-dee-dooo.
In the meantime, the weather had started to go to hell. There was a low coming through, and these vicious gale force winds were buffeting our little craft like the proverbial turd in a commode. Not good, getting worse. It had been pleasant and calm a few days earlier. None of us had thought to bring life jackets. Not that they would do us much good in these weather conditions. We were now several miles offshore, in an open boat, and the sea state was non survivable. Nobody protested.
A psychologist, writing a Ph.D. dissertation on male pride and ego, testosterone and pure stupidity, would do well to include a paragraph on what we were attempting here.
It was going to get worse. Much worse.
We arrived, with great difficulty, in the approximate neighborhood of the first purse seiner. The Winfar 666, as I remember.
I say “in the neighborhood ” because the wave action made it quite impossible to stay in any one location. We were bobbing helplessly around an area the size of a football pitch. Every so often our little vessel would make a half hearted pass along the Winfar 666. With the little outboard going like a demented sowing machine, we would shush by the ladder.
Briefly, before being swept away again.
I yelled at the pilot who was trying to get off there. He was crouching, in a braced position, ready to try and grab hold of a rung as we careered crazily past.
“If you fall off, we’re not going to be underneath you! And the rung may be pulled out of your grip by the roll of the ship! “
I knew what I was talking about. I’d experienced it myself. When the weather is rough, the ship can be rolling with such force, that you lose your grip on the rung. No matter what you do.
He shrugged, determined to try anyway.
No life jacket…
On our fifth momentary pass, he made a desperate lunge. Instantly the launch was swept fifty meters away. There was nothing we could do except watch in horror. He had one bad leg anyway, from a helicopter accident. It was weak and deformed. He held on with his hands, amazingly, but the inertia from the motion of the launch passing by at speed, meant that his legs went flailing wildly off the steps. He couldn’t get his feet on the steps…
The ship was rolling wildly. Still he held on by his hands only, desperately trying to get his feet located.
A few seconds that seemed like an eternity. He managed it, and clambered quickly up.
Had he fallen, there was nothing we could have done to help him.
That was one down, by the skin of his teeth… now the other seventeen. And that was the closest ship to shore. Some of the others were a mile further out, where the sea state was doubtless going to be worse. Much worse…

All of a sudden, it hit me. I don’t know if it was a Holy fire, or an Un-Holy fire, but all of a sudden, I know I was filled with it. What erupted from me I do know was Un-Holy. Most Un-Holy. I stood up, a dangerous feat in a rocking boat, and let rip at full lung power:
“This is F@#$!!n CRAZY! Boatsman! Turn this GODDAM TUB around NOW! Take us back to Honiara! This is BULLSHIT! And don’t ANYBODY DARE ARGUE WITH ME! “
This last comment was directed at the full complement of passengers.
The teenage captain looked at me, pale and unhappy. Now he was really scared as well. Of me. The bearded freak yelling like a demented madman. He nodded, his head bobbing up and down vigorously like some plastic toy.
Everybody looked at me. Everybody saw the dangerous look in my eye. Nobody spoke one syllable. Nobody even moved a muscle. There was going to be hell to pay if we didn’t make it to the boats, The captains would be mad. I didn’t care. They could blame it all on me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d caused total chaos. F…’em. We were turning around and going back. Right there, if Muhammad Ali, him of the boxing poetry and all, had barred my way, we would have slugged it out, knuckle against knuckle.
I’ll give you a dance like a f#!!kn butterfly…
I might not have lasted long, but I’d have gone down swinging.
I was that mad. At myself, for having played along with this insane,suicidal game for as long as I had.
It was a silent ride back in. A long, bumpy, wet, cold, hairy ride. Nobody made a single protest. Nobody wanted to try again. We landed at the quay side, nobody spoke a word, and we all trooped off to our various hotel rooms.

The next morning, I was sitting at breakfast, early and alone. Wondering if I had done the right thing.
I knew I had, but there is always this voice of the Doubter.
What’s your problem? You chicken or something? Huh? Scared of a few waves?

A Philippine mechanic shuffled over to my table. Older gentleman. Helluva nice guy. I liked him a lot.
I paused, between mouthfulls of bacon and sausage, as I noticed his odd expression. He stood there, sheepishly, holding his cap in his hands. Like a penitent. It was strange. This older gentleman, a father with a large family, approaching me, all humble.
“Mister Moggy “, he said, quietly.
“Mister Moggy, I want to thank you for saving my life… “
The thought came into my mind that it was a wind up. The guys were pulling my leg. They had put him up to it.
We pulled those pranks all the time.
But no…. he was sincere…
“Mister Moggy, I think I never see my children again. I think I never see my family again… “
There were tears in the old man’s eyes. I had an overwhelming desire to place my arm around his shoulders.
I held my breath.
“I pray to Jesus and the Virgin Mary… I am frightened… and I pray to them that they save me… and then… “
He paused, and looked at me, in a dazed sort of awe.
“And then…YOU stand up… and you say ‘turn this fucking boat around’… and…Mister Moggy… you save my life. “
I gulped. His sincerity was pure as gold.
“Mister Moggy, I thank you… that I can see my children again… “
Any doubts that I might have had about my actions the previous day, evaporated.
I thanked him awkwardly, humbled in a strange way. And he shuffled off.

I look back on that event, I am really not quite sure what to make of it. The true believers say God works in mysterious ways. Amazing Faith. I envy that. I admire it also, in a way. And very often these believers are remarkably kind and gentle people. The doubters, the half crazed semi-cynics like me, don’t know what to believe. Maybe we’re just too rough. Too blind. Spiritually impoverished.

I was humbled by his sincerity. And I don’t mock what I don’t understand. But you have to admit, there is also an irony there. It kind of amuses me. No target too sacred, you know. There were eighteen passengers in that boat. If the Virgin Mary was answering his desperate call, and used this hopeless sinner as the instrument of her will… Then I must respectfully thank the ‘Lady in Blue’.
For using me in such a way.
But I must admit I’m a bit puzzled.

Why me, ma’am? Of all people? Errrr…..

Couldn’t you have picked a Catholic?

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 22, 2014, 9:00 pm

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One response to “A Blip on the Radar (Part 13) “The Lady in Blue “”

  1. I loved reading this!  It was filled with suspense, humor, and mystery.  You kept me very intrigued.  I enjoyed reading your religious philosophy and commiserating in your confusion.  I will remember this story.  Thanks!

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