A Moment of Reverence for Joseph Conrad

I paused. Just before we commenced our normal late afternoon routine, i sat in my spot in the family room and paused. I had sat the book on the side table next to my chair. I tried to capture how i felt.

I broke from the spell. As Maureen fed the cats and gave Bruce Willis his meds, i set up the dinner trays next to our spots, placed the napkins and silverware on the trays, changed from my contact lenses to glasses as any hard exercise was put off until tomorrow. After all of my preparations were done and Maureen had commandeered the kitchen to create yet again a culinary piece of art i will find different, interesting, and like very much, i repaired to the refrigerator freezer and poured myself a “martin” (bless you, Mister Fraser) into the frozen unbreakable martini glass Sarah gave me a couple of years ago, complete with unstuffed pitted olives, preferred by my friend Marty Linville.

I delayed as long as i thought i could in turning on the television without raising Maureen’s ire. She likes to have the television on while she cooks. It is “soothing” or something. Since there is little i like to watch, i am not a big fan of television noise, and my nature compels me to actually pay attention to whatever is on. As usual, i choose the local news to at least get the weather forecast (70 degrees with morning marine layer clouds and a slight breeze.

It matters not this afternoon. I normally ignore the news(?) unless it is something that might affect us. But today, i was deep (for me) in thought.

I had just finished the third short story in the tome of Joseph Conrad: Complete and Unabridged. I sat thinking about how i felt akin to the almost Polish, before it was Ukraine, Russian born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. The story was “Lagoon.” As you might have ascertained, it captivated me.

I had read Conrad much earlier in life. I’m pretty sure i read Lord Jim while either a junior or senior at Castle Heights Military Academy. I think Major Harris was the professor who assigned that reading, but i could have just picked it up myself. I was a pretty voracious reader back then. I remember finishing with a feeling i had learned something. I just wasn’t quite sure what i had learned.

But my attraction to Conrad was his short stories about life at sea on ships. It was an adventure i could not imagine. I felt the sea and the struggles and deep rooted joy of men who were enveloped by the sea and the people they met far away from the reality they had known in their early life. There was a finality to it all. I felt it.

But i put Conrad and his sea stories away for more esoteric pursuits: southern literature, sports writing, partying, loving women… and, oh yes, for many diverse reasons, going back to sea.

And finally, i made it to his playground: the South Pacific, and even got a taste of seamen on ships, non-military ships. I went to Vietnam first and got a taste of life much like the Malaysians. More impactful to me was riding merchant marine manned USNS ships, carrying Korean troops to Vietnam and back to Korea. It was a complete change from my Navy experience. I felt Conrad. I felt his stories of the sea. I felt men at sea and in strange worlds dealing with the essence of living. It just didn’t quite sink in for me right then.

Then after really sort of giving up on my hopes to see the world, i went to a ship on the West Coast. I hit the western Pacific on a continuing basis…and i loved it. I went to Australia four times within four years. I spent ten days in Singapore. I stayed at Conrad’s go to place, Raffle’s Hotel and sat in the bar thinking of him. Visiting and transiting the Straits of Malacca, the narrows between Malaysia and Indonesia where literally thousands of merchant ships created a gauntlet for navigation brought Conrad’s stories to the forefront of my thoughts.

Now, the man may have been the best writer of the greatest novelist of all the English writing novelists. And English was his adopted language. His descriptions of any scene can just blow you away independent of the story line.

But more so, he writes of humanity, good, bad, faulted, and it resonates with me.

I hesitate to recommend you read him. He’s mine. His stories resonate with me. i will read all of his stories and may even reread him again.

As much as i identify with him, feel as if i am connected to him, there is a difference. He is a great writer, one of the best at writing short stories and novels. i am a storyteller.

I just hope he didn’t like the original Singapore Sling at Raffles any more than i did.

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