Spared Dimes and Shadow Lines

Sitting in a meeting yesterday it occurred to me that I have become that person I once snickered at in younger days.  Whenever one of the older guys in my labor union would start to talk about building the interstate highway system or some other ancient "war story," my brother and I would roll our eyes and begin softly humming "Once I built a railroad, made it run..."  

And then, yesterday, I found myself bringing up something that took place in 1994.  We were discussing how to prepare for accreditation and, having done it twice before, I had some thoughts on how to go about it.  Everyone listened deferentially and then explained to me why I was wrong and that we should do it the same inefficient way we did it twice before. 

No matter.  I don't get to decide these things.  I was more struck by the fact that I had referenced events from 1994.  Nineteen-ninety-four?  For crying out loud.   No one else in the room was even employed by the college then.  Is this what awaits me?  Am I now the cause of the eye rolls and exasperated sighs?

* * * *

Joseph Conrad has a brilliant novella entitled The Shadow Line.  In it he tells the story of a second mate on a ship who is in line for a series of steady promotions.  If he sticks with it, he will make captain.  It's only a matter of time.  But something inside of him doesn't want the safe, plodding, surefire way, so on a whim he quits his position in a foreign port.  With no particular plan and no prospects, he wonders into a seaman's hotel and lands a job as a captain that very afternoon.

The problem is his ship is stranded up the coast in a primitive, pestilential port, where the former captain dropped dead and the crew is sick with malaria.  The new captain gets to his ship and tries to sail her out, but each time he reaches a certain point--the point where the previous captain died--the winds fail and he is driven back into the harbor.  Finally, after much herculean effort, he manages to get the ship beyond the imaginary shadow line and into the open sea, but in crossing that line something changes.  He realizes on some unstated level that he is no longer young.

There are perhaps many shadow lines in one's life.  And my dredging up ancient history in a meeting yesterday may even have been one of them.


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