Like a Ship
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1978 Kaye-Smith, Seattle, WA
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Bill Tootell
Original Release: Crossover (KM308)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
The search for spiritual understanding was ignited in me when I was about twelve. That's the time I can say I was truly looking around and started to ask the questions that are still with me today. I was a curious kid. What greater mystery than trying to find out the meaning of it all? I was fortunate to early on have rubbed shoulders with many other faiths besides the Lutheran Christianity into which I was baptized. I had more than one avenue from which to compare what appeared to be true.
During one formative part of my childhood I lived in an all Japanese neighborhood on Beacon Hill in Seattle. Flowers and shrines and laughing Buddhas were in all my friends' living rooms. At another time I lived in an all Italian Catholic neighborhood, also in Seattle. By seventh grade I had also encountered Baha'is and Vegetarians.
The Baha'is have a nine-sided church, the first time I was to associate math with mystery. Their central belief was that all ages of humankind has had messengers. Made sense to me. As for the other, having never met a vegetarian, I thought sure it was a religious sect and asked them about their beliefs. They said they went to the Big Round Church where no one could corner them in. That also made sense.
By 14, having joined the Civil Air Patrol, I made friends with a student Jesuit, Donald Montcrief. I found was that Jesuits encouraged question and dialogue about belief. Donald was a pilot, would rent a Cessna in Tacoma and fly in to pick me up at Renton Field. As we flew high above the fiords, lakes and evergreen forests of the pristine Puget Sound of the early 60s, he and I would talk. And talk, And talk. It was never about dogma but rather him encouraging me in my questioning.
Despite the wide and voracious reading habits of my youth, my hit and miss pursuit of truth through literature was spotty even though my father had purchased (on time payment) a set of the Great Books for me when I was eight. It was not until much later in life I came upon the quintessential Socratic statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” By then it was no longer a conundrum.
Like a Ship is about that-- examining one's own life, being cogent of the journey. Although thinly disguised by equally thin metaphor, I start off asking myself if this house with drawn shades is really my place? The Evangelical Christians have a simpler way of getting to the solution: “Let your Light shine. Don't hide it under a bushel! Or as Emile Zola put it, “I came for to live out loud!”
Ah, but I was in the angst of my twenties. Deep meanings needed deep questions and fraught-with-meaning answers with convoluted, poetic ways to obliquely sidle up to the truth: We were all lost ships yearning for the shore. We were all asking the question, “Have I been here before?” BUT (my saving grace) I knew I was on a spiritual journey. My examined life included knowing I did not know.
As the song goes, I was “bound for some holy town, looking for the light-- wandering at this rainbow's end, singing to the night”. I was searching for a spiritual home. Looking back, I have great sympathy for that kid. The Sufis nail it: “If I were to wish with all my heart to give you one hundreth of what I know and you wished with all your heart to know one thousanth of that, I could not give you one ten-thousandth.” It is a solo journey despite the helping hands.
Denny Goodhill's saxcello on the Crossover record strikes just the right note of soulful hesitancy and determined commitment for “that kid” to keep at it. Lani Lundeberg's parallel vocal lines are exquisite. Her tonal match to my untrained folky voice is full and uplifting. Her vibrato at the end was something to which to aspire for many decades. I wrote this on mandolin and adapted it for the dulcimer.