This is a story I wrote 23 years ago as I was contemplating the responsibilities of parenting.
The Seapeople and Their Ships
By Al Turtle, Published in INMEN, April, 1995
Once upon a time there was a world made of water and land. A people lived on the water and were called sailors. They were born on the water. They lived, worked and played on the water. They were buried at sea. They were a seapeople.
There were people who lived on the land, too. these people were born on the earth. They lived their lives, working and playing, always on land. And the end of their lives they looked forward to being laid to rest in their beloved earth.
This was for the most part a happy world. The Seapeople traded with the Landpeople. They came to ports often to pick up cargoes and to deliver them, to buy supplies and especially to receive newly built ships. For, you see, the Seapeople could not build ships without land, and the earth’s offering of wood and metal. The trade was good. The Landpeople built ships just about as often as the Seapeople needed them. All was well. All was balanced.
Now sometimes the ships that were launched would not work well, and might cause trouble. You know how it is. Seams would like right out of port. Sometimes in a storm a ship would founder or being top heavy would turn turtle and sink. Perhaps a boiler would leak or even blow up, or a firebox would cause a ship to catch fire.
Seapeople were hardy. The sea saw to that. So they fixed the seams, the boilers, the designs that they could. They took really badly designed or build ships to coves and left them there to rot, using pieces for repair of their other ships. Of course, sometimes when a ship sank, Seapeople died. Then again, they died at the hands of weather or mistakes while sailing anyway. The number of dead from poorly built ships was not high. All was well. all was balanced.
Then, as it always happens in happy lands, bad times came. The number of poorly designed, poorly built ships began to increase. Seapeople began to grumble. People were dying more often. Finally a great meeting was called and the Senior Admiral of the Seapeople asked for information. He was told of all the troubles of his people – all the poorly built ships, the exploding boilers, the burned through fireboxes, the leaking seams.
He said to his advisors, “What are our options? What can we do? Our people are beginning to suffer.”
His advisors counseled more and better mechanics and shipwrights to inspect delivered ships, to fix them, and to put new ships in isolation until they proved seaworthy.
Still his people said, “We have done this and it is expensive. Often we calk a ship only to have its boiler blow up. Often we install a safety valve on a boiler only to have the firebox set the ship on fire.” One old sailor said, “We must somehow put a stop to the poor quality of the ships launched. We must go ashore.”
There was a silence. Then one of the Admiral’s legal advisors explained patiently. “We have in our Constitution, and in the Constitution of the Landpeople, a primary clause that we will not go into their land and they will not come into our sea. That clause has kept us at peace. How can we go against it?” The Senior Admiral said, “Yes. The Landpeople say that they have the right to build ships as they see fit, and our Constitution supports them.”
But the old sailor rejoined, “Do they really have to right to cost us so much, even to kill our people with their clumsiness?” And then there was much talk.
Finally a young scientist spoke up. His name was Dave, and he studied esoteric sciences. He was responsible for the radios that people used from ship to ship. “I know of a land that is having the same trouble,” he said. “Perhaps we can learn from them how they solve this problem.”
And the Senior Admiral said, “Tell us all about them.”
Dave left for a moment and then came back with pages of notes. “I started hear them on one of my radios. I don’t know where they are, but they seem to live at a place called Earth. It must be far away for their language is very strange and I only learned to translate it recently.” The Admiral said, “No matter. How is their problem like ours? Do they have ships that sink after launching?”
“No,” said Dave. “They seem to have a problem with children. It seems they have one group called ‘adults.’ Now, these adults do all the work and pay all the bills, they play and live their lives. From among them there is another group called ‘parents.’ These people raise the children, who when they grow up are send into the community of adults. “
The Admiral became impatient (have you ever known an admiral who didn’t.) and said, “We do this too. What is their problem with this, and be quick about it? Don’t waste our time.”
Dave became nervous, but spoke bravely. “More and more, the children being raised are being raised poorly. They are entering the world of adults unprepared, foolish, irresponsible, and even violent. Most are fine, but more and more often many are dangerously ‘defective’ and the adults can do nothing about it. Of course they do exactly what we are doing. Sometimes they inspect the young adults, find errors, and try to repair the damage. But there are so many trouble-carrying young adults that is is becoming expensive. The adults take some damaged people and isolate them in jails and other places, like with do with ships in the rotting coves. Many unfortunately commit all sorts of crimes, cause death, and great expense for the adults. The adults are getting angry.”
The Admiral began to see the point. “But,” he said, “the parents are adults are they not? Why do you say, ‘the adults can do nothing about it’?”
“That is a funny thing,” Dave continued. “The parents are often completely untrained in building ships, woops, I mean in raising children. Of course they don’t know it. They are doing their best, but their best is often quiet terrible.”
“But,” objected the Admiral (have you ever know an Admiral who didn’t object.), “Why doesn’t someone train them or at least stop them?”
“Ah, that is odd. It seems they have the same rules wi have with the Landpeople. No one is allowed to go to a parent and criticize what they are doing, just as no one here is allowed to go on land and criticize the builders of our ships. ‘Parents’ there sayd the same thing that Landpeople say here. “I can raise my children any way I see fit and no one has the right to tell me otherwise. These are my children.”
The Senior Admiral was astonished as were all the Seapeople who listened. But that is a disaster for raising children! We know that! Seapeople children belong to the Seapeople not to the Landpeople. Can’t they see that children ‘belong’ to the adults and are certainly not the private property of the parents? Where are the earth elders, the ones who should no better?”
Dave said, “They appear either to be as foolish as the young parents or they appear to be silent and passive. I don’t hear wise ones on my radio at all. All I hear is growing anger at the defective children and what they do that is costing more and more to the adults. They sound just as stuck as we are being delivered defective ships.”
“From all I hear,” Dave finished, “these are a very inventive people. They have many advances in science beyond us. They learn fast. I feel confident that they will soon discover their problem and solve it. Let us continue to listen.”
The Admiral was quiet for a long while. When he spoke, it was with slow halting phrases. “We must go ashore. We must work with the shipwrights. The ships in the building process are ours. These Earth people have already taught me.”