Complex Ecosystems: Building Ships

“Build me straight, O worthy Master!
Stanch and strong, a goodly vessel,
That shall laugh at all disaster,
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!”

-from “The Building of the Ship“, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hidden inside many of the words of our lives are other words. Words that allow us to ponder and contemplate, to consider roots and dig deep. Within every Question a Quest, within every Lover a Love, within every Dreamer a Dream. But some words that bubble within us are an opportunity to build something, dream something more. I speak of Ships.


So often we stumble into these connections and collections of and with people with a blind eye, unaware of what it is that we are doing. We find someone we click with, and having fit like two pieces of a puzzle we think its all we need. That click, that magic.

And oh, it can work, so well… and for some, this wellness lasts for a very long time. But when I pause and notice this word, Ship, at the end of each, I find myself contemplating ships. From canoes to mighty sailing ships, cruise lines to barges, there are so many types of ships out there that serve a wide variety of goals, purposes, and needs in the world.

When I enter into a relationship with someone, sometimes I hop on board without noticing the quality and nature of this ship I am about to board. Where is she headed? What is her carrying capacity? What nature of vessel is this ship?

But the reality is, these issues are important. Not such an issue on a pleasure ride, for I can create mighty tales of adventure on a merchant vessel and kyak alike. But if I have places I want to go, experiences that call to my being as being important… then there is folly at play for trying to navigate a river in a merchant vessel or try to cross an ocean in a kyak.

A quiet smile played round his lips,
As the eddies and dimples of the tide
Play round the bows of ships,
That steadily at anchor ride.
And with a voice that was full of glee,
He answered, “Erelong we will launch
A vessel as goodly, and strong, and stanch,
As ever weathered a wintry sea!”

There is no bad ship. There are ships that do not serve our needs, wants, desires, goals, plans, passions, hopes and dreams. If I long for a decadent gondola ride, laying back and taking in every view as another pushes our way, I may be deeply upset to find myself aboard a minesweeper pushing its way through enemy territory. This does not make the minesweeper in service to the Navy a bad ship. It makes it not a gondola.

Some of us want to know what kind of vessel we are boarding, but don’t want to know where it is going. Give me a Schooner and a worthy crew, let our hulls be filled with all our needs and let us set sail for adventure.

Others care more about the destination. Get me to Alaska, and let us survive in one piece. If that is the case, we might make the trip by sail or motor power, by steam or paddle… depending on if we care how much effort we will have to put into it and how much time we have to get there.

I know the basics of handling a river or sea kyak, a canoe, a catamaran, a sailboat, a rowboat. But I have never piloted or handled a speed boat. I would have no idea where to begin on a cruise liner. Let alone a battleship. I once held the wheel of a ferry boat for fifteen minutes while the Captain was overseeing me, but that does not make me an expert on handling Ferries.

This same applies to our RelationSHIPs, FriendSHIPs, MentorSHIPs. It applies to LeaderSHIP as well. We may have had relationSHIPs for years, but we are skilled at motor boats and you just handed us a sailing ship. When you asked me if I had done this before I thought we were talking about a Galley and you brought me Drakkar. This does not make us bad at RelationSHIPs, it makes us unskilled or new at this type of relationSHIP.

Some of us can learn- if we have an experienced captain or sailor who can help us. But sometimes these old sea dogs think you want to learn to traverse the same water they have sailed for a lifetime. If you say you are exploring the ocean, they might try to teach you all the tricks necessary for sailing the Atlantic fifty years ago, instead of the realities of the Gulf of Mexico today.

Do you want to captain, or navigate? Lift and haul and work, or stand upon the bow taking it all in? Do you care more about where you are going, or how you get there? Are you committed to this craft, or can the crew get off and board another, one that might serve your goals and desires better?

Will you take on your parent’s ship, buy one of your own, borrow one from your tribe, or build one from scratch? Are you trying to build a speedy ship that is too laden down with cargo from your past? Do you want to be aloft on the waves for the rest of your life, or take your boat out and enjoy it once a year? What maintenance does your vessel need? What crew to support it? What supplies to ensure safe passage?

There is no bad ship. And within every Friendship, within every Relationship, within every Mentorship… a Ship, ready to set sail.

‘T is but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o’er our fears,
Are all with thee,–are all with thee!


If so moved…




Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

Comments are closed.