Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean. (Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge).
doldrums – noun
1. a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art: August is a time of doldrums for many enterprises.
2. the doldrums,
a. a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
b. the weather prevailing in this area.
3. a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits.
Captain SweetCheeks and FirstMate K8 have been on a marital voyage for more than 32 years. There have been many days of smooth sailing, more than a couple of near-shipwreck misses near rocky shores, and occasional battering by waves and winds that they somehow managed to safely navigate. They enjoyed sunsets, changed course more than a few times, and learned to trust while charting a course of togetherness for all time.
They took turns steering the ship; sometimes standing together at the wheel. Sometimes one would stand alone at the wheel while the other, with full faith in the ability and skill of the other, rested or pursued other activities, resuming their watch in due time.
They trained a couple of crew members who then set about on their own journeys, on their own vessels. These grown crew members produced new little sailors who popped onto our ship from time to time, bringing great joy, laughter and adventure.
A long voyage was planned, mostly by the Captain, that would take the seasoned crew away from the children and grandchildren, to a warmer climate. He planned a career move that would carry him to full retirement. First Mate K8, reluctantly agreed to the voyage, and planned a semi-retirement that would include part-time teaching and exploring a life-long desire to write. The ship set sail on the newly charted adventure, the crew standing shoulder to shoulder at the wheel, heading into the sunset.
The ship anchored at the chosen southern latitude. The employment opportunity that the Captain anticipated never materialized. An alternate employment path was deemed unsuitable and the Captain obtained part-time employment to get him off the ship from time to time. First Mate K8 was homesick for her home port, missing her former crew members, dockmates, and comfortable assignments. She struggled daily to stay upbeat, fighting (although not always successfully) to keep from blaming the Captain for her unhappiness. She was offered a demanding full-time position. Given the economic outlook for the voyage and the need to purchase the large quantities of provisions required to make margaritas (for purely medicinal purposes), she accepted it. The position included a soul-sucking commute and left her little time or energy for her desired creative outlets.
Thus Captain SweetCheeks and First Mate K8 find themselves on the HMS Doldrums – listless, depressed, lacking movement of any kind. Unable to move forward, unwilling to move backward, they find no wind in the sails of their marital vessel. They feel the presence of the albatross.
The Captain, as always, feels responsibility for the happiness of the crew and success of the mission. He blames himself, berates himself for the stalled success of the voyage, despite his best intentions. He wishes, more than anything, that the First Mate will find some nuggets of happiness. He misses her laughter, cynicism, and teasing. He wishes she did not have to work full-time, commute so far, give up so much. He fears a mutiny, and treads lightly around her – unsure what to say, more unsure about what, if anything, to do.
The First Mate, finding herself in totally new and unfamiliar surroundings and roles, fights loneliness and depression. The support system on which she had depended for so many years and from which she had drawn her strength feels as if it is out of her reach. She floats adrift – immersing herself in work, floundering socially. She wonders why she agreed to the voyage, and more than once reminds the Captain that she had voiced doubt about the advisability of the mission. She finds no joy in being right. In fact, she is despondent that he, too, seems adrift. She hates that he has assumed the burden of responsibility for her unhappiness. Unwilling to make him feel worse than he already does, she also begins to tread lightly in the Captain’s presence.
Thus their interactions become wary, stand-offish, tentative. The crew members, accustomed to finding joy and taking pleasure in each other’s presence, now retreat to solitary pursuits, withdraw from each other. Periods of silence, once comfortable and welcomed, now feel dangerous – as if at any moment an explosion will rip a hole in the side of the vessel. At last fears and recriminations are voiced, tears shed, thoughts and hopes addressed, and healing begins.
There will be no mutiny. The Captain is reminded that he is not responsible for the happiness of his crew – only their safety. The First Mate recognizes that she would rather be on this journey, with this Captain, than anywhere else on this globe. Once again they stand shoulder to shoulder at the wheel, facing the sunset, secure in their love – ready for whatever direction the winds take them.