The vast banquet room-turned-conference hall stretched out into a mirrored and cheap chandeliered oblivion. The lighting was slightly muted but not turned down enough to allow for the surreptitious power naps for those few fortunate enough to land seats in the corners. The meal consisted of the typical chicken/beef mystery meat that didn't really taste bad but had no distinction or taste apart from the greyish gravy in which it was slathered, there were red potatoes(a conference meal staple), and some vegetables of varying colors and cuts in which he shared little to no interest.
And with clinking coffee cups like out of sync drum rolls ushering in the noontime speaker, he entered. His introduction spoke of inspiration, official training, life experience, and the list went on. He was probably amazing, but I had seen so many of these speakers that they had all started to fit into a general mold of very little variation.
He didn't step up and run directly into platitudes or crowd ingratiating. He paused and let the murmuring voices abate. He was patient and calm. For a moment I thought that he was experiencing temporary amnesia and had arrived without any crutch notes to help get himself through the event. Was he going to completely bomb?
And then he asked me to daydream. To close my eyes and see. To turn off the voices, the clattering dishes on the stewards' trays being wheeled back to the kitchen, and the nebulous distractions of deadlines and workloads and shut my mind to the confusion around me, circling in the blinding darkness like a flurry of menacing spirits...Valkyries from afar.
And, I was there in an instant. I was water...a mad, raging, black sea. At once, a haven...a refuge in my calmer depths for all who sleep and live within me, and, at the same time, a thrashing, destructive beast on my surface. I was the beginning and the end.
Then I was a boat of wood and sail tossed violently about without care or regard. I was the sea's distraction. The vicious water tore at my hull...at my planks and rigging...at my body, my arms and legs, trying desperately to wrench the boards of my torso free and plunge me into the unknown murky depths. I was broken, my main mast torn asunder and my soft white sail, draped like a funeral shroud, lay across my deck.
And finally, I was a man...a sailor, gripping white knuckled onto the stricken ship hoping against hope as waves crashed over me, each one threatening to swallow my little craft. My hands, my arms, my legs all ached with exertion. We had come so far.
I wanted only to return home. The wars were over and now my fellows and I, warrior mariners all, wanted only to lay with wives, behold our growing children, and sleep in ancestral lands once again before our mortal coils were spent. And yet the sea seemed not willing to let us pass...not yet.
I spat the foul salt taste from my lips, but drank again and again with each breath of salty sea winds and wave. Even the rain from the heavens above was tainted with the briny flavor. There seemed to be no escape from this fate. The sea was alive all around and filled with rage.
I could hear the tortured creaks and moans rising up from the vessel as we rose and plummeted with each passing wave.
I watched a friend...a comrade-in-arms swept from the deck and without a sound was lost. He had withstood showers of arrows, mighty Persian steel, and all of mighty Ares' wrath only to plunge into dark Poseidon's embrace at the threshold of hearth and home.
I could contain it no longer. I growled and bit back my fear, rising to my feet despite the storm, the Fates, the Gods. I steadied myself against the angry, searching, ravenous winds and waves.
This couldn't end...this life...me. Not now! Not like this! I wouldn't allow it. My anger would sustain me. I found my voice hiding in the most recessed places in my soul. I coaxed it out with my anger and when it rushed out, it sounded like a thunderclap. "Noooooo!" My passions boiled over and heart raced and all I could think was to live. I redoubled my grip on the struggling boat and barked at each new, incoming wave.
The storm rose to a fevered pitch, the sky screamed and the water roared, but I held.
And then the winds died and the water calmed and the rain stopped. And the battered crew and I watched the tempest, a dark hulking beast rippling with energy and sounds, slowly creep away.
Land was sighted and, after a very short trip which seemed to stretch into an eternity, I walked on the shore's of my people. I fell to my knees and balled fist fulls of sand into my palms. The sun was warm, the breeze comforting, and the water, now warm and soothing, was cleansing and gentle. I prostrate myself on the sand and let the surf wash over me.
And before I was truly able to get comfortable and relaxed, a voice came to me and called me back...back...back to some other place.
The room was crowded still and brighter, brighter than it had seemed just a few moments ago, and seemed unfortunately familiar. The voice from the man at the front of the room behind the podium continued in its microphone amplified resonance to tell us to open our eyes and turn off our imaginations so we could all hear his droning testament.
But I looked around at the others, those around me trying to hear his words not getting his meaning. They all wore tired and distracted faces.
They'd gone nowhere. They's seen nothing but profit margins, deadlines, and dreaded workloads. It was sad and I wished they could all have come with me. And I sat and thought and let the sand slowly sift through my fingers and onto the banquet room floor.