Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!

On August 5, 1864, during the American Civil War, a U.S. naval force of 18 ships under the command of Admiral David Farragut was ordered to enter Mobile Bay, Alabama, and engage and destroy the Confederate flotilla based there. Mobile Bay was one of the Confederacy's largest ports, and a major port of entry for blockade runners supplying the South.

Upon entering the bay, the U.S. ships encountered a field of mines, which at that time were commonly known as "torpedoes." Within a few minutes, one such torpedo exploded and sank the U.S.S. Tecumseh. The other U.S. ships, alarmed by the loss of the Tecumseh, and under heavy fire from Confederate naval and coastal fire, began retreating.

According to legend, Admiral Farragut, upon seeing the carnage and fear in his fleet, defiantly issued what has become one of the most famous (and perhaps distorted) lines in naval lore: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Emboldened by his order, the U.S. flotilla re-engaged the enemy and subsequently won the battle, successfully shutting down a major supply line for the Confederacy and hastening the end of the Civil War.

While in some ways apocryphal, historical accounts tend to agree on the major points of the story. Useful references can be found at the following websites:
So often in our sport, we visualize for ourselves scenarios of desired perfection. Partly for self-motivation, partly to assuage our fears, partly to give ourselves hope, we visualize the perfect training day, the perfect race day, where everything is the perfect breakfast, the perfect check-in, the perfect set-up, the perfect transition, the perfect swim, the perfect bike, the perfect run, the perfect finish, complete with the perfect (read: victorious) journey home.

We cling hard to these habits, telling ourselves that if we believe in something hard enough, long enough, often enough that they might, just might, become something more than grandiose aspirations of imagination but instead become manifest as our own self-made reality.

And we do this to the point that it starts to spread beyond our sport and into our lives, until it becomes an endless search for perfection...our lives, our jobs, our homes, and soon our friends, then our family, and eventually our world.

But that's not the way life works.

Life.

As in the thing--the one thing of all things--you cannot control.

Things happen. Things go wrong. Things break down. Accidents happen. People make mistakes. There are differences of opinion. The world behaves in bizarre, insane, crazy ways. Chaos rules the universe.

Including you.

Just like rogue waves, missing buoys, and floating driftwood in the water. Just like flat tires, broken rims, slick pavement, and drunken drivers on the bike. Just like open blisters, raw skin, strained arches, torn achilles, and shattered ligaments on the run. Just like wet weather and hot days and lost equipment and bad nutrition. Just like one of those days--all of those days--when nothing, absolutely nothing, goes right for you at all.

And that's when you have to decide for yourself what you are going to do. That's when you have to decide for yourself if you turn around, retreat, and go back home.

Or if you settle down, grit your teeth, lower your head, and go. full. speed. ahead.

Not to impose your expectations upon the world, or the people and creatures in it. Not to find your vision of perfection. Not to chase some fantastic delusion of your own grandeur.

But to just move forward.

Or die trying.

Because while you are not the master of the universe, and as much as the universe may not care, you can still be a lord of chaos, and you can still make an impact on life.

Life.

The one thing--of so many things--you cannot control.

But you can still make a difference.

For the better.

2 comments:

Jeremy Dixon said...

Good find. Inspiring. I always thought the phrase "Damn the Torpedoes" referred to preparing to fire a torpedo...This makes a much better story.

J. Wilson said...

That's a good picture at the top of the post. Also, very interesting and comprehensive post you've left.

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