Although most people use the words “happiness” and “joy” interchangeably, there is a nuanced different between them. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, subject to change with the passing events of this world. Joy, however, is a spiritual condition, a quality that can be developed, honed, and utilized. Many people in this world do not or cannot live happy lives, but where happiness fails, joy can fill in.
The story I am about to tell you is not a happy one. It is not full of seamless smiles or easy days but it is full of joy. Moments where laughter was chosen, and hope was clung to.
We got underway on 12/6. I have always been prone to nausea and motion sickness. I have decorated many roadsides with my regurgitated lunch and stared down many McDonald’s toilets during road trips. Despite this puke-prone history, I boarded Cramer optimistic that I would be able to escape the clutches of seasickness. Blissfully ignorant of what was to come, I slapped on my scopolamine patch and started my morning chipper on the quarter deck. By 1245, however, I was starting to fade. I had already thrown up so many times I lost count.
My stomach was empty, but I was still heaving up sour stomach acid. The rest of the ship busied around me, running drills, setting sails, changing watches while I laid on the deck. The hours passed as I laid on my side singing every song I could remember the lyrics to. Every hour I am sick, I am one hour closer to not feeling sick anymore. I told myself, and I felt content to wait out the worst of it so I could join my shipmates in sailing.
But as day turned to night and the cold winds blew through my thin t-shirt, I desperately wanted a break from the nausea. I was not the only one sick that night. Together, we laid like carnage on the quarter deck in pathetic lumps occasionally making a mad dash to the rail. Despite the misery, I still found laughter.
In a rather unfortunate moment, one of my shipmates, Maya, unexpectedly threw up on the deck and into my cup of goldfish. When I asked her to hand me my goldfish, she said slyly, “Um, you don’t want them anymore.” A smile broke across my face and a small giggle emerged from the blanket I was hiding under. One by one, my seasick friends made it down to their bunks to sleep for the night. By the grace of God, I made it to my bunk around 0100 and slept.
I awoke the next morning at 0530 hot and nauseous. I stumbled onto the deck and vomited the contents of my already empty stomach. I laid on deck soothed by the cool morning breeze until 0730 when I had to venture below deck to use the head. As anyone who has been seasick will tell you, going below makes your nausea ten times worse, so this was a risky operation.
I half-climbed, half-fell down the ladder stumbling my way to the head. I plopped down on the toilet and waited. Every second dragged on as I sat in that hot, stagnant air. Each pitch of the boat sent a wave of hot nausea up my throat. I fell to my hands and knees off the toilet, turned around, and heaved into the bowl. I wretched until I choked. Scared, hurt, and frustrated, I started to sob. I needed help. I needed to not be alone. Weakly, I called out the bathroom door for help.
The first voice I heard was Captain Kevin reassuring me that someone was coming to help me as tears streamed down my face. Our assistant scientist Mahalia appeared behind me and lifted me up by my harness as I sobbed into a trashcan. Somehow, she got me back on deck where I curled up and cried. I cried from the pain of such frequent vomiting.
I cried from frustration of not improving. I cried from fear that I might not get better. Needless to say, I was not happy. In fact, it would take another day or two to feel happy again, but my joy remained. Eventually the tears dried up and the occasional smile returned as I watched my shipmates learn the ropes of sailing.
That morning, the watch had performed a Neuston tow. Davi, one of our deck hands, told me we had cool critters in a jar that were collected in the net. I asked if I could see them and waited excitedly to see what wonderful organisms my shipmates had found. Davi announced her return by saying, “Macy, I have one bad news and two good news. The bad news is that we have no critters. The good news is that they have been returned to ocean to live out their lives, and we will be getting more soon.”
I broke out into laughter. Her delivery and timing were that of a master humorist. We giggled together in the warm Caribbean breeze. Abdu’l-Baha says that “laughter is spiritual relaxation.” I am so grateful to Davi for sharing that moment of relief and joy with me. If I was nauseous in that moment, I didn’t know it. All I felt was the joyous bounce of my body as I laughed.
I don’t remember much of that day. The hours between laughing with Davi and nightfall were most certainly scattered with puking and the occasional tear, but I remember more of the good of that day than the bad. At 1200, I consulted with the med officers and decided to take off my scopolamine patch so I could try a different medication. This put me in a twelve-hour waiting game for the scopolamine to leave my system before taking the new meds. I hung out on deck with C watch who was standing evening watch, and there was no shortage of laughter. In one particularly glorious moment, my friend Pike mispronounced the name of a piece of scientific equipment called a secchi disk. He yelled across the boat to Tierney for “permission to release the sucky d**k!”
Later that night my condition worsened. My stomach had been so empty for so long I couldn’t really puke anymore. I would heave until I choked, choke until I coughed, and cough until I heaved. It was a viscous and painful cycle. Bonnie, one of our scientists on board, suggested that I eat some saltines to break the feedback loop. Davie kindly brought me some saltines.
She handed me one, and as I lifted it to my mouth, its smell was repulsive. I don’t remember saltines having a smell. I thought to myself, I must be really sick to not even tolerate saltines. I bit into it and it tasted exactly like it smelled, an ungodly combination of sour burnt metal in cracker form. “Um, I said timidly, does this taste weird to anyone else?” I am sure Bonnie and Davi thought I was crazy, but they complied, and each took a bite of cracker.
Almost immediately I heard them groan in disgust and spit the rancid saltines over the side. In disbelief we all started laughing. Davie said defensively, “I didn’t know I had to taste-test saltines!!” Natalie, who was at the helm, and Addie, who was standing look out behind her, asked to taste the saltines, a request they soon regretted. I howled in laughter listening to Natalie beg Addie to hurry up in spitting over the side so Addie could take the helm and allow Natalie to spit out the awful cracker. That night C watch really took a bullet for me as Bonnie, Tierney, Davi, Natalie, and Addie taste-tested four more sleeves of rancid saltines. I cackled watching Natalie and Addie ping-pong between the helm and the rail desperately spitting out the cursed saltines.
This carried my spirits through the final hour until, finally, I was able to take promethazine at 0100. I was helped down below and slept.
I slept for the next fourteen hours. I didn’t leave my bunk until 1600 the next day. I finally felt good enough to brush my teeth and hair. I stepped on deck, weak but not nauseous. The sun was setting, casting the entire sky in a pink glow. The water reflected the pink and orange light from the sun, but its beauty paled in comparison to the smiles of my shipmates. They greeted me so warmly as I stepped on deck, excited to have me back with them. I breathed in a breath of fresh air and smiled.
Just then, someone yelled, “DOLPHINS!” from the foredeck. I waddled as quickly and gracefully as I could up to the bow. My friends cleared the way to give me the best view of them, but my vision was blurred by tears of joy. I giggled loudly and freely. The type of unfettered, care-free laugh you hear at kindergarten recess. I felt so grateful for everything every single one of my shipmates did to help me through. I felt so loved by how excited they were to see me on deck. I was so relieved to have, even for a moment, a few minutes where I wasn’t nauseous. All this, and I got to see dolphins.
That moment didn’t mark the end of my recovery. I was severely dehydrated and underfed. My body was exhausted, and I still felt a little seasick. It took several days for me to be able to stand watch again. It has been four days since that dolphin sighting, and I am still healing. There is a lot that can’t do. Sunday (12/12) marked the first day that I could look at a computer and eat a full meal. I can’t help my shipmates with galley clean-up or data entry. Sometimes I can’t even help with sail-handling, but they always help me through. Without a second thought, every single one of my shipmates picked up slack where I couldn’t pull my weight. Even if it meant more time hot in the galley or stuck on CPCe, they never complained.
It was because of my shipmates that I was able to keep my joy. Every act of service brought a smile to my face. I couldn’t wallow in disappointment when I had so much to be grateful for. This blog post is dedicated to them, each and every member of the crew aboard SSV Corwith Cramer, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. They always say that on the boat you will experience your highest highs and lowest lows. Right now I am grateful for that lowest low for teaching me to dig inside myself to find resilience and strength.
Thank you to:
Jackie and Katey for bending over backwards to keep me fed.
Tierney and Rocky for keeping an eye on me when I was a sad lump on the quarter deck during your watches.
Davi for grabbing me goldfish, Gatorade, tucking in my blankets, and making me laugh.
Kelly for literally everything from getting my meds to making my bed.
Jen for being such a great mate and allowing me to stand watch to the best of my ability.
So, Abby, and Emily for picking up slack for me on watch and in galley.
Amadi for giving me an encouraging forehead kiss and helping me figure out how to renourish my body.
Bonnie for helping me make several mad dashes to the rail to vomit.
Mahalia for literally picking me up off the floor in my lowest moment.
Pike for being a wonderful friend and writing me encouraging letters every single day.
Kevin for always being there to talk to and help me make the most of the situation.
Heather for giving me well wishes and being flexible with my schoolwork.
Olivia for encouraging me and helping me still participate in lab, even if it means moving lab to windy, misty deck box.
Addie and Natalie for taste-testing rancid saltines for 15 minutes straight.
Nathan for playing his soothing kalimba and grabbing me Gatorade.
Maya for spending some of those late nights on the deck with me.
Mo for rubbing my back and holding my puke bucket despite being a sympathetic puker.
All of starboard watch for completing my portion of data entry for me.
Everyone I listed and anyone I didn’t for things you did for me that I didn’t see.
Macy Littell, B Watch, Wellesley College
P.S. A couple of my shipmates have messages they would like to send home.
Abby would like her dad to know that she wants a salmon bake for Christmas dinner.
So would like their family to have pepper jelly and cream cheese for Christmas.
Nadia would like to wish her sister a happy birthday!!
Hux desperately wants Mike and Ikes brought to her at the airport.
And to my parents: it’s been worth it (I promise).