• David Hrostoski

Set Sail

A story about freedom from our past.

Imagine a ship.

Over time the captain of this ship has dropped anchor after anchor in an attempt to stabilize and keep himself safe from the unknown waters.

As intended, the ship has been anchored into place for quite some time.

The memory of the open sea is now but a distant memory.

Yet the time has come where the captain is ready to sail that unknown sea in favor of a new destination that calls him forward to it.

This destination has to be appealing for a captain so afraid of the open water to want to mark a new X on the map.

And it is.

It holds a treasure like no other—a feeling of home, true satisfaction, a life worth living.

Still, the ship lay tethered. All predictions of probabilities for forward movement point to impossible.

Not only did the captain lay hundreds of anchors, but he did so without any recollection of where along his vast ship he tied them.

At times, he had even hid the knots from view so as to ensure the ship could not be untethered into the unknown.

With his new destination in mind, he'd spent countless hours, day and night, searching his ship for these anchors, hoping to set them free.

Still, he had hid them so well that despite he and his crew's best efforts, he knows they may never set them all loose.

Backed into a wall with desperation, he decides to call in a trusted advisor—a wise old man living in a small village atop the mountains outside the Eastern edge of the port town.

He sends a few of his crew to retrieve this man and bring him back to the ship: "This man sees things that cannot be seen. Perhaps he can help to set us free from this circumstance that I have fixed us in."

Three days later—one day's travel there, one day's rest, one day's return—the man arrives.

Without a word, the man walks up onto the ship and begins examining the many ropes strung in all directions. The majority of the ropes now remaining are only partially visible, stuck to the side of the ship underneath layers of thick green algae.

The captain, hearing word of his arrival, runs to find him.

"Good afternoon, wise one. Thank you for coming."

"I sense that you want me to give you the locations of these many ropes. For why else would you have called me here?"

"I am happy to pay you whatever you ask. If only you can help me to set sail for my home."


"I cannot explain it, but it calls me, day and night. So much so that I must sail into the unknown seas that I swore I'd never sail, and cut the many ropes that have been my safety."

"Very well. Though you called me here to find these many ropes, there is another way. Set sail."

"With all respect, that's ludicrous, wise one. Don't you think we would've been gone already if it weren't for these many tethers that keep us in place?"

"Nearly all of these ropes are anchored so poorly that they stop nothing but your decision."

"They are not anchored to the rocks below?"

"Some, yes. But even many of these are anchored with rope so old that they'd break with only minor force."

"Are you saying we don't need to remove any anchors at all?"

"No I am not. It is true, some of your anchors are firmly secured. They will indeed prevent your progress."

"You see, this is why I've called, wise one. Please tell us where these ropes are hidden."

"You needed not me, but only your own choice. You say you desire to go, and yet you sit still."

"If I could move, I would. You surely must know that, seeing what you can see."

"Listen carefully, Captain. What is required is not to undo your past, but to boldly choose your path ahead. Set sail."

"I don't understand. That's impossible, wise one."

On hearing this, the old man smiled, bowed slightly, and began walking away.

"Wait!" yelled the captain, "Please help me to find the remaining ropes! I'll give you whatever you want!"

But the man continued walking, off the ship and back toward his village.

The captain sat for hours, in dismay. No matter how he imagined it, he could not see how to escape the prison of his own making.

The next morning, though, something changed. It was as if the old man had given the captain something more than he'd previously realized.

"Hope," he whispered to himself, before yelling up to his crew: "Set sail!"

The crew, though surprised and hesitant, listened to their captain. They began unwinding the sails and pushing away from the dock.

As they did, thick ropes began peeling away from the sides of the ship.

The crew watched in amazement as many of them simply snapped or fell off altogether.

Still, though many of the ropes were now cleared, something was still preventing their movement.

"Full speed ahead!" the captain yelled down.

"Captain," a crew member called back, "We already are!"

Just as the captain began to curse the old man for having given such poor advice, he saw it.

A single rope was pulled taut near the rear of the ship. He hadn't seen it before because it was hidden so entirely under the algae, but now pulled tightly, it was clearly in sight.

He looked past the rope, and there was the old man standing and smiling in his direction.

"He wanted to watch, that old bastard!" the captain said out loud to himself. But he smiled back, nonetheless, because he understood.

"Cut that rope in the back!" he yelled down, "The one that's pulled tight!"

"What about the rest, Captain?" the crewman yelled back.

"We'll take them as they come," he said, more to himself than the crewman.

"What did you say, Captain?"

He turned back toward the old man, proud of his newfound understanding, to see that he was no longer standing there.

He walked over towards his crewman so he didn't have to yell. He was smiling, half present, half recalling the wisdom of the old man.

"I said, listen carefully, mate! What's required is not to undo our past, but to boldly choose the path ahead. Set sail."

Slightly confused, but happy to see his captain this way, he nodded and brought the orders to the crew.

The crew continued pressing ahead, and as each rope peeled away and presented itself, obvious and pulled taut, they cut it.

It wasn't the most graceful exit the port had ever seen, but it was an exit nonetheless.

"We're almost free," the crewman reported back, "Where to, Captain?"

"Home. We're going home."

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