In the early 1980s, the Big Guy was on a whale-watching boat off Boston. As a whale was sighted, the cry from the crew went up.
Whale to starboard!
All those paying to see whales rushed to starboard. Well, those who knew which side was starboard rushed there, getting the best positions right on the rail, as it were, and the others followed the cognoscenti.
But whales swim around, whale-watching boats bob around, and in a matter of minutes the sneaky cetacean had disappeared from the starboard view and surfaced elsewhere.
Whale to port!
And all the whale watchers rushed to the other side. (Of course, if everyone had just stayed where they were at the outset, the viewing opportunity would likely have come to them. Whales swim around; whale-watching boats bob around . . . )
As the passengers moved from side to side, the boat listed with their combined weight: noticeably, if not quite alarmingly. For those inclined to be nervous about such matters, the question had to arise: Would this be the time that they tipped the boat?
In our house, it’s become shorthand for ephemeral, albeit often impassioned, enthusiasms.
I think of my personal enthusiasm spurts: exercise, diet, housecleaning, and time management regimens. I think of our societal enthusiasm spurts — seasonal flooding on reserves, year-over-year boil-water advisories on reserves, refugees, domestic violence, and icky conditions in our food chain. I think of how easy it is to run from rail to rail; how hard to set and maintain a course. On anything. I mean, does anyone even remember the Congo? Haiti?
Starboard! Port! Repeat!
As my little boat rocks from side to side, as the ship of state lists erratically, I hold my breath just for a moment. Will this be the time that the whole thing tips? Almost certainly not. But I do wonder how much forward momentum is lost in the wallowing. I just don’t wonder for very long . . .