10. The Vessel

We’re sitting too close to the oiler, and they’re threatening to blow it up.

It’s a year and a half later and we’re policing international waters. 

We spent a year sailing in and out of Pearl Harbor before we left for this deployment.

Here's what I learned during that time: Hawaii is as beautiful as everyone says it is, but Hawaiians could do without American sailors. I was becoming more and more heartless in the way I treated men and my relationships with them, and most bars serve until 6 am so there's a lot that I don't remember. I know I longed for my sober life at sea.

close up of hand, palm up, holding glitter

My ship, USS O’Kane (DDG77), is like the Navy gods took everything that was heinous about my first ship, scraped it off, and rebuilt it to perfection.

It proves to me day-in and day-out how the right leadership can mitigate a would-be toxic culture: Our captain cultivates a well-oiled machine where everyone knows what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and we love each other like a wolf pack in harmony with a greater purpose to protect.

This is Pop-Pop’s Navy.

We travel the world together: Bahrain, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Singapore, Australia, Vanuatu, Seychelles and more and more. We are on our way home to Oahu when we are ordered back out.

Soon after, pirates take an oiler hostage for ransom and we are called to intervene. 

Now we’re sitting too close to the oiler, and they’re threatening to blow it up.

We’re on our third day of just floating here while the brass negotiates.

We don’t all have a need-to-know. Even those of us with secret clearances are in the dark.

One thing we all know is that everything may end in an instant.

We’re living on the edge for days, one foot in, one foot out.

Until finally, they reach an agreement about who knows what and our captain announces that all is well. We are going home to Oahu.

We’re allowed to go topside to breathe fresh air for the first time in almost a week.

Silent, we climb the ladder to the main deck and out the port break.

Single file, we walk to the stern of the ship and sit along the edge of the missile launchers where we’ve watched so many sunsets before.

But it’s nothing like before.

No one is saying a word.

Where there was always laughing and joking and conversation, there’s only silence.

I pick a spot on the port side of the launchers, and put my hand on the non-skid, scratchy gray paint that covers the ship’s surface to balance myself as I take a seat, but it’s neither hard nor scratchy.

It’s nothing.

A calm fills every fiber of me before I look around and see tiny sunlit diamonds everywhere. We are all swimming in it. Piles of it. Piles and piles of glitter.

I believe my shipmates see it too before I’m transported back to the balcony in Australia, before the mimosa, when all of it made sense.

When I got it.

When I understood all of it for the first time.

If we’d never met the pirates, maybe I wouldn’t have turned my attention back to God that day.

But it’s like Pop-Pop said, once you know, no one can take it from you, so I was bound to meet Him again.

But would I continue to choose spiritual connection over more material distractions?