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Life Raft

I’m on a life raft with a group of people who don’t believe you can change other people. I’m one of those people. So when Maureen goes on about how it’s too hot, under the sun and all, I think to myself, ‘You can’t change Maureen. She’ll say what she wants to say. Clean up your side of the street.’

Or in this case, the life raft.

Which gets me thinking how a lot of people are making a horrible mess. Gabby and her husband Bruce leave sea turtle bones all over the life raft. How difficult is it to throw sea turtle bones into the ocean? We’re on an orange life raft about the size of a king-sized mattress and they’re treating this thing like their private home.

But then I think to myself, ‘Wait Ron; there you go again, trying to change other people. What good would it do to tell Gabby and Bruce that they’re making a mess? Mind your business.’

But my business is survival. That’s at odds with the group. Judy’s the leader of the group. It was her idea to have our third year anniversary party on an ocean yacht. It was her idea to charter a boat from her narcoleptic cousin Len. Her idea to abandon the boat when it capsized and her idea to get on the life raft. But when Judy talks, we listen. Even now on the life raft.

Each morning Judy starts with a discussion focused on the idea that we can’t change other people vis-a-vis the group on the life raft, nor people before the terrible accident, nor any survivors we may encounter. All of them. No one can be changed, ad infinitum. And this life raft situation? Can’t be changed. We have one week of food for seven people, six life jackets, and a flair gun with two cartridges. We can either be upset about this or we can make peace with the situation.

Then she asks if anyone wants to share. Keith speaks up. He’s an original member of the group, and says, “Thank you for your service, Judy.”

“Thank you!” Everyone says.

Keith goes on and recounts how most of his adult life was spent trying to change his adult son, but what good did that do him?

A few people make throat sounds of agreement.

“And this life raft,” Keith goes on to say, “Isn’t it just a metaphor?”

“Sure is,” says Maureen.

I think to myself, ‘No, this life raft isn’t a metaphor; it’s the only thing keeping us alive. And if you asked me what we should do, I would say we should open up a flair cartridge and fashion some kind of underwater explosive to catch more sea turtles. Our food supply is running dangerously low and we need fresh meat. And I don’t know how the cartridge explosive would work, but if I was tasked with the job, I’m sure I could figure it out.’

But then I tell myself, ‘No no no, Ron. One day at a time. We still have food and I still have to give up my desire to change the situation.’

“Thanks, Keith,” everyone says as I tune back into the conversation.

“I’ll go next,” says Len, the former captain of the ocean yacht, the one who we could blame for falling asleep at the wheel, for causing the terrible accident, if we believed in blame, which we certainly do not. But it’s convenient that Len likes our group. Convenient that Len’s taken it upon himself to ration our food. Convenient that Len sleeps near the life vests. Convenient, convenient, con…

“I’m so glad I found you all,” says Len.

“Keep coming back!” says Maureen, but of course he doesn’t have an alternative.

“You all taught me how to live and let live,” he says. “Before I found you, I was a wreck.”

‘Literally,’ I think. ‘You were hanging onto a piece of wreckage.’

“But now I’m here,” he says, “and I know it’s because of you all.”

‘Or, it’s because I pulled you in,’ I think.

“Thanks, Len!” Everyone says.

Then there’s a brief silence, the usual pause after someone shares.

‘I can’t stand it,’ I think. I’m losing my mind.

“I’ll go,” I say.

Everyone’s looking at me. I look at the sea turtle bones.

“I’m really struggling,” I say. “I’m struggling with the idea that I can’t change this situation. It’s just such an oddly specific situation. It’s not like how I struggle with my family. It’s not like that at all. Sorry Keith, I know I’m not supposed to address others in the group directly, but isn’t this situation monumentally screwed up?”

“Len, the captain who killed many members of our group, many of them our friends and relatives, is sitting right here. He hoards food and plots who he’ll execute vis-a- vis a life jacket lottery. I hear him counting the life jackets at night. And no one is bothered by Gabby and Bruce’s mess of sea turtle bones?”

“This isn’t a metaphor. Sorry, Maureen. This is real life. And I love this group. Don’t get me wrong. You saved my life many times, notably when Judy pulled me out of the wreckage. But this group isn’t useful for this scenario. Maybe we can help Maureen get over the weather, but otherwise, we need to be in survival mode, people.”

Everyone stares at me. I recognize I’m in a tizzy. I feel flush, not from the weather, but from my anger. And now I’m embarrassed. These are good people. Back on land, Maureen listened to me talk about my relationship problems. Judy picked up my call after I got into a huge fight with my boss. Everyone here, except for Len, helped me out in a time of need. The group helps. Not this retreat, definitely not the anniversary party, but live and let live. You can’t change other people.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s been a hard day. I apologize, Len.”

Keith pats me on the back.

“We’ve all been there,” he says.

“I think I’m just tired,” I say. “And hungry. Can I have some sea turtle meat, Len?”

Len shakes his head.

“We’re in the middle of a meeting,” he says.

I lower my head in shame.

“I’m done,” I say.

“Thanks for letting me share.”

“Thanks for sharing!” they say.

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