Kathleen and I left the bus at Fort Lauderdale to board ship, along with our thirty friends. Check-in was smooth. Before we knew it we had found our quarters in state room 3520. We were suddenly in another world and had already been prepared by colorful advertising and up-beat copy to expect the maximum in enjoyment and security all the way.
But before we had even left our stateroom to begin exploring, a voice over the public address system summoned all passengers to their designated areas to receive preliminary instructions. Our rallying point was a huge auditorium, perhaps seating 1,000. The ship hadn’t even left port.
In the auditorium, all floors sloped steeply toward a huge stage. Soon, three crew members bounded onto that stage dressed informally, one young man and two young women, and began to frolic about.
Each held a bulky, floppy orange object. It looked like it was constructed of four large blocks strapped together. While passengers gathered, the crew members jumped and skipped, waving the orange objects overhead. They seemed to mimic carefree children.
Soon a male voice came over the public address and in his opening sentences named the objects the young people were waving: life jackets. We were there to be instructed on how to use them. As the voice instructed, the crew members donned the pieces, attached them down the front and tied them snugly around their waists, all the while continuing to prance about. Then, their task completed, they danced merrily off the stage.
I had never thought of life jackets as objects for merriment on Caribbean cruises. Life jackets to me are for catastrophes at sea or man-overboard situations, or even for airplane crash landings in water. Life jackets are to keep you from drowning while you bob about at midnight in the cold of an unknown stretch of water, hoping someone will find you. What an incongruity this was with the huge, secure, gleaming Jewel of the Seas. And, with all this seriousness, what was the merriment about?
But I quickly realized: You can’t enjoy the good things even of a cruise unless you are prepared for the misadventures too. You must be prepared for the unexpected in order to settle happily into pleasant adventures and their routines. The good life requires life jackets in reserve.
Come to think of it, however merry the frolic of the moment, it is not wise to sail on the sea of life without back-up measures for the unexpected crises. Metaphorically, there are life jackets to help us keep our heads above water in such situations — a loving family, a caring church, community resources, etc. But when God is captain of our ship, Christians have an even more certain support — “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble; therefore we will not fear…” (Ps 46: 1). And, he promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…” (Isa 43:2)