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An Elegy for Melville

September 17, 2020

An Elegy for Melville:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”

- Moby Dick

It’s easy to forget about the concept of legacy. The thought of the traditions and memories we leave behind. It’s easy to forget. And it’s getting easier by the day. But perhaps if some good has come out of our common, shared experience over the last few months, it’s the opportunity to slow down. To think. To remember. And to ponder what’s next.

Over the last few years in representing fishermen as part of the New Bedford community, we’ve learned a lot about legacy. The legacy that Melville addressed – of the need to return to sea; the salt and the waves; the danger and the freedom. You can feel these things at the docks and in the markets and in the worn cobblestones. You sense it in Melville’s pew in the Bethel. The sense that sea, for all its dangers and challenges, presents an opportunity. One of adventure and of a better life. It’s honest work, which is a rare commodity in this age.

So as we look toward the fall, we pause and reflect on the fortunate opportunity we’ve had to become a part of – however small — this community that in the tradition of Melville, quietly takes to the ship.

Stay safe.