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My basic premise is that every situation speaks, offering an infinite number of possible messages to anyone interested in decoding the content.  Further, it seems to me that the art of decoding is an undeniably literary practice–it involves metaphor, parable, analogy–and most of all, story.

For me, this spring’s most haunting story is the one about the American-based cruise ship that sailed within sight of three Panamanian fishermen dying of thirst and exposure, and did not change course.

My first reaction was to condemn the cruise ship and everyone on it (except maybe the three binocular-toting birdwatchers who spotted the tiny boat and tried to effect a rescue).  Then I thought, but what were the people inside the ship guilty of?  Oblivion?  How’s that any different from me–the way I can blithely ignore genocide and starvation, health epidemics and environmental disasters, just because they happen to be occurring at a comfortable distance?

The cruise ship strikes me as a perfect metaphor for the United States and those of us in it. Somebody else is steering.  The thing is massive and unwieldy, almost impossible to turn.  And the distractions on this ship are endless.

One day after the cruise ship forged past the tiny fishing boat, one of the men died.  The second man died a few days later.  Miraculously, the third man survived.  Listening to him describe their desperate attempts to get the cruise ship’s attention, I wondered what sort of story he would tell about the people on the boat.

For details, see NPR story by Greg Allen



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