Okay, i’ve been home from Mercy Ships for a couple months now, but I feel like there are still a few things lodged in my brain that are worthy to be written about.
One of those is how living on Mercy Ships is very similar to making all your friends in the local neighbourhood Hospice.
Yup, a Hospice. The place where terminally ill people go to be comfortable before the move on to whatever the heck comes next. You heard me right.
But how can living on a ship with 400 excited volunteers from 40 different nations possibly be compared to palliative care?? There aren’t people dying on the ship are there???
No, nobody died while I was there. Don’t worry Mercy Ships PR people. Everyone was very happy and (relatively) healthy.
But it sure did feel like people were dying sometimes. These people below were my best friends on the ship. During the 18 months I was there we hung out almost 24 hours a day. They were awesome people.
We were crammed into a intense living situation. The ship was a small, enclosed environment with long working days and high stress. We were limited in our free time by a curfew (and early sunset) that meant that any time off ship had to be in a group and treasured as much as possible. Spotty internet made the world of our home seem further away than on the other side of the planet and the weekly phone call to my parents weren’t spent confiding my struggles, they were spent catching up and hearing about the excitements in our respective lives.
The people in the photos were my friends, confidants, secret keepers, exploring companions, workmates, late-night struggle discussers, and basically everything else you can think to describe the close people in your life. Because you did literally everything together someone could go from total stranger to best friend in less then a week.
It was amazing. I’ve never been to war but I can imagine that the camaraderie in the trenches were similar…. except that we had great food and serene beaches and ghurkas to protect us… so actually it was nothing like war. Forget I made that comparison.
Yet it feels like i’ve seen most of those people die.
And through the process learned a lot about living.
Let me tell you quickly about the leaving process on the ship.
For the majority of my time there, the shuttle for the world left every two days at 6:30 in the morning. So when a friend was leaving we would all set our alarms for the earliest it’s ever been set and gather bleary eyed on the dock to hug and take pictures and say goodbye to someone that we’d spent a ton of time with. They would then climb on the bus, we’d wave goodbye, walk back up the gangway and get back to normal life.
Breakfast would be quiet. But then it’s back to work. By lunchtime? Back to normal life. At dinner someone new would be in their seat and our good friend would be officially a part of our past. Almost like they had never been there. Often times we wouldn’t even mention them again. It seemed to make saying goodbye easier.
Depressing? Yeah, a bit.
It didn’t take long to realize the transience of life aboard the ship. Within two weeks of my arrival a new friend of mine was finally ready to leave. He’d been on the ship for 3 years and was engrained in the ship. He was the comedian, the popular guy who was ready with a smile for anyone, he was welcome anywhere and knew everyone. I was sad to see him go – we’d spent a lot of time together – and I felt like his absence was going to be felt strongly on the ship and in our team.
His morning came and we waved as he drove away. Then we went back on the ship and by lunchtime I realized that something was strange… nothing had changed. Like nothing at all. His seat was empty at breakfast but someone new was sitting in it at lunch. By the next day there was a new comedian. A few weeks later he was gone and there was a new comedian in his place. I realized that no matter how popular you are, how necessary you think you are… when you leave you’re gone. The world keeps on turning. The ship keeps on sailing.
I knew that one day I would be in his position. That one day I would leave and the ship would keep on sailing. That one day I will die and the world will keep on turning.
New people would arrive to the ship every two days. Just like how every second there are people born on this planet. We eventually will all run out of steam and have to leave. Someone will replace us, no matter how important we were. For a few days on the ship that was all I could focus on. It all felt so useless! Why should I struggle to make friends with people, to listen to problems I don’t care about, to suffer through hardships… when at the end of the day we are all going to leave?
Then a wise friend (who thankfully listened to my problems) told me that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.
Why worry about when you’re going to leave? He asked. Look at all the good you’ve done so far! Look at all the good you can do today. Besides from the fact that we are on a hospital that literally is saving kid’s lives every day there are also tons of opportunities to help the crew that has left their comfort zones and homes, crew that need joy and relaxation and love in their lives. Sure they leave, but they aren’t dying after this. They are going on to affect their friends and family and countless others. Everyone you help is going to go and help others and they will help others and so on.
Look at how you impact the people around you. That is what will last after you leave. Someone new is going to sit in your chair and have your job and sleep in your bunk. But that person isn’t going to have a chance to impact the people that are around you right now. Only you can do that.
I learned a big one that day. Sure, it sucks when your friends are constantly leaving. Yeah, it sort of feels like they are dead and i’ll probably never see most of them again. But we had great times together. They made me a better person for their friendship and hopefully I made some impact on them.
The sad fact is that most of my friends from those lovely photos I will never see again. They literally live all across the planet and even though I hope to visit them all in their home regions… I probably won’t. I’d love to, but I probably won’t. Unless I spend all my days travelling (which hopefully will happen!).
But luckily Facebook exists and I can watch them get married and have kids and do all the other stuff that living people do. Which is awesome! But watching friends on Facebook is different than hanging out with them, eating a meal, having adventures, hearing about the Africans that keeps hitting on them…
Now do you see how it’s similar to having a friend die? You spend a huge chunk of your life with someone and then suddenly they aren’t there anymore.
It’s so important to value the people in your life when they are around. Because at the end of the day everyone does leave. And all you’ll get is your one life. Your few years in which to impact people and make things better.
My friends on the ship were so important. They have impacted me more than they realize and even though Mercy Ships is quickly becoming a part of my past their influence can still be felt. I know that it is as if I have died to many of them, and most i’ll never see again, but that doesn’t mean anything. My world is a better place because of them. And I believe that at the end of the day that is what really matters.
Also I legitimately do want to travel and visit all of you. 😉