The following is an excerpt from The Shell and the Octopus, by Rebecca Stirling
The child in this story has been protected by a miraculous force. Her mother leaves and her father does not provide safe haven. She finds solace, stability and care in nature. The ocean becomes a caring mother that lulls her to sleep. The moon is a guide for her. Food is nourishing and honored. She is opened to the idea of a spiritual presence, not only through nature, but also by her father and his friends. The little girl recognized the significance, power, and guidance of God as ever present, early on.
In chapter 20, P. 99, Becky is sailing the boat on her own on a night watch. There is weather on the horizon, they are crossing shipping lanes, and she has taken what she has learned and is sailing on her own, as a pre or early teen. “She’s carrying us along just fine, I think. Thank you girl, thank you God—whatever you are out there.”
The men she is raised by often lift their arms to the sky and shout ‘Shakran.’ I still do not completely understand the literal interpretation or the origin of this word. I heard it recently exclaimed, before take-off, from a captain on a Qatar Airlines flight from Saudi Arabia. It is some honoring of spiritual. Her dads crew would bow their heads and thank God. “Thanks Gods,” some with accents would say it. Or chant, “Ah to the land beyond, beyond!” In chapter 21, page 104: “What is the land beyond, beyond?” I ask. “It is where and when there is freedom,” Charlie says. “And God energy and spirit and the power of love. Endless possibilities, in balance,” Dad adds.
Balance. Though the men she grew up with were not experiencing God necessarily in the most present or wholesome way, they were striving towards connection with it. And, along their journey, through sailing, running, hiking, diving, motorcycle riding and traveling, they immersed themselves in nature, which is, I believe one of the homes of God.
Charlie often wore a knit cap on the boat, I think so his head would not burn. But on the inside there were silver threads. I had a game of taking it from him and he would say that I was stealing his magical powers. Not only were there intimations of God, but also of mysticism. Many of the island people, though touched by colonialism and a myriad of outside religions, still preserved myths and practices to bring bounty, health and safety. Clean water, healthy fresh food are paramount for survival, and their honoring and stewardship of such things are integrated into their beings. It is sad to travel back and see fresh water soiled, oceans polluted, plastics and trade destroying these pure practices. Something we should all take a deep look into.
It comes to light in this story that many chase spirituality, thinking themselves too unclean, unworthy, and in the journey ricochet between extremes of purity and the opposite. On this journey of extremes we encounter fear, protectionism, unbending societal structures which ultimately create an ‘other’, an ‘outsider.’ And ultimately, as the narrator glimpses upon near the end of the story that she must, “..believe that I am a creature of God or spirit and therefor I must do good, be good. Respect myself and have confidence in myself as a facet of God.” When this occurs, we are protected, and guided, by a miraculous force.
Rebecca Stirling lives between Colorado and Kauai with her two children. She teaches creative art and writing classes to help spread the knowledge and ingenuity of world cultures. She continues to sail and travel, read and write, and has a love for the stories individuals, cultures, and our earth have to tell. Her memoir, the Shell and the Octopus sailed into our hearts and minds on 7/26/2022.