Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lessons From The Ever-Observant

"You see, you and I don't live in a series of big, dramatic moments. We all live in an endless series of little moments. The character of a life isn't set in ten big moments. The character of a life is set in the ten thousand little moments of everyday life." ~Tripp, Whiter Than Snow

They are always listening. They are always watching intently and observing your every move. They know what kind of clothes you wear, what you drive, what you like to eat. They watch how you walk, talk, and carry yourself. You are under a microscope and a stethoscope. It's just the reality of being a leader - particularly on board a ship. While your buddies in the business world are able to fake a facade and keep up appearances for the 8-10 hours a day they are in the office – it cannot be done in the confines of a piece of floating metal, with ever-observing Sailors densely packed onboard, in the middle of the ocean for 6+ months. It just can't be done. We work where we live. There is no escape of examination. Sailors are very perceptive and great judges of character. Every moment. They cannot be fooled for long, if at all. You will be found out and known for who you truly are. The sea has a way of revealing the true nature of a person. Underway, if you are awake you are at work. If you are not horizontal, in your rack, then you are being employed - standing watch, walking your spaces, at your computer, or in meetings. And, rather you sleep or you work you are being watched.

I know this to be true. There I was somewhere in the middle of the Western Pacific, returning from deployment, having just pulled out from a liberty port in Australia. I was a young Ensign, underway, as the JOOD (Junior Officer of the Deck), standing the mid-watch (2200-0200), on the bridge of a Destroyer. The Conning Officer and I were leaning on the window sill near the alidade (the normal place to spend time on the mid-watch) talking about our last port and thinking about the potential of the next. [At this point it should be mentioned that I was the lay leader onboard and responsible for conducting all Sunday Christian services and Wednesday Bible studies – so, the entire crew knew I was a believer]. As the bow cut through the moonlit shimmering waves we talked. And as the Bible says, where many words are sin is not far – the idle words turned to gossip and disdain for another person. The name of one of our fellow JO’s became the focus as we began talking trash about him. We were carrying on, in whispers, about how Ensign Jones would show up uninvited on the quarterdeck and annoyingly tag-along with the group of us wherever we went. The conversation continued to worsen (as such things tend to do) until I decided to meander out to the bridge wing to check the contact picture. On my way back in, as I’m stepping through the hatch, pausing to pull the handle shut behind me, I hear a sweet quiet voice come from the dark area near the helm. A young, Christian girl (who had once sought me with deep spiritual questions), Seaman Smith, was the helmsman and begins to ask me a most haunting question. Without malice, in her gentle southern draw, she says, “Excuse me, Sir.” I respond, “What is SN Smith.” She continued, “I was just wondering, Sir, what do you suppose Jesus would think?” Unaware, I asked “About what?” Her response still reverberates in my soul even as I write this . . . “About what you were saying of Mr. Jones.” Dumbfounded and ashamed I stood crushed under the conviction of those words. I still feel pain as a lump fills my throat and tears come to my eyes when I think back on that brief moment. I wish I would have responded in godly repentance, instead I was frozen and stunned by my sin. SN Smith was God’s mouthpiece that night. Certainly, the character of a life is set in ten thousand little moments of everyday life. Witness, which is to say Christian credibility, can parish like bio-luminescence off the ship’s bow. You are always being observed.

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