the tale of the albatross

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

(Theodore Roosevelt)

A long time ago there was a ship that set sail. During the voyage, there was a great storm. The mast fell, the ship cracked, and the crew, in fear for their lives, took to the only lifeboat.

They watched from a safe distance as the ship with all their worldly hopes sank. But the crew was not that worried anymore. They had escaped to safety, and the lifeboat was well equipped with water and food, supplies they were sure would last them until a passing ship rescued them from the see. After all, they were in a major shipping lane, ‘it won’t take long’ they all thought.

Days passed and soon became weeks. The supplies dwindled down to almost nothing. One or two of the sailors died and were given solemn rites and fed to the sea. Then one day, all the supplies were gone.

The captain gathered the crew and said, “We have a problem and a choice. Soon a ship will be passing and rescue us but we do not have food to last. We can either choose that all of us will starve together and pray that rescue happens before, or that, we can draw straws and the man with the short straw will give up his life so the rest of us may eat of his body and live.”

The crew sat in shock. Cannibalism? They didn’t know if they could. How wrong. Then they bent their head and conferred.

The first mate stood and said, “Captain, I think I speak for all of us when we say that we would rather draw lots to see who may eat and survive and give ourselves over to the choice of fate as to who shall be the meal then all of us starve dying from lack of hope before the body fails.” And the crew all around nodded their agreement. The first mate turned to the crew, “And each of us vows that when we are rescued, we shall provide for the dead man’s family and make sure that they never know more about his fate then he died a hero to make sure we would survive.”

The Captain bowed his head and then set about the task of breaking straws from a small whisking brush he kept in his pocket, making some shorter and some longer. It didn’t feel right to him to do this, yet neither did letting all of his men starve, and he made his mind up that he would make sure he picked the short straw and be sacrificed. He just didn’t think he could live with the other choice.

Just then, there was a great commotion and the whole crew jumped up, almost upsetting the boat. The cook, who had been at the far end of the boat, waiting for word as to what to do, was flailing about madly – half hidden behind a frenzied flapping of huge wings.

An Albatross, that great sea bird, had fallen out of the sky and onto the boat. The crew leapt up and assisted the cook in subduing and killing the bird and there was much rejoicing for Albatross was considered a fine bird for the pot in any land.

But the cook caught the Captain’s eye and mumbled something the Captain could not hear so the Captain said, “Speak up!”

And the cook said, “Not enough.”

“Not enough? What the devil do you mean by that?”

“I mean, Captain sir, there is not enough meat on one bird to give but each of us a mouthful.”

And the Captain and the crew sat back down and did not speak or look at each other for a while.

Finally, the first mate stood. “Captain, I think I speak for all of us when we say that we would still rather draw lots to see who may eat and survive, giving ourselves over to the choice of fate as to who shall be the meal rather then all of us starve dying from lack of hope before the body fails.” And the crew all around nodded their agreement. “One mouthful, even though the meat be kind, would be more torture than any of us could bear.”

The Captain sighed. “Alright then, we will draw straws and whosoever picks the short straw shall be seized and taken behind the sail. The cook will prepare both man and bird out of view and we shall eat without knowing which it is we consume.” And he made up his mind to make sure the albatross was the meat in his hands.

They drew straws and the sorry lot fell on a young seaman, newly wed and only on his second voyage. The crew, with great solemnity, seized the man, brought him behind the sail and killed him. The cook was left alone to do his grisly deeds.

The whole crew ate their full meal in silence. Not a one looked at each other the whole time. At last, they fell into an uneasy sleep.

Clanging bells and shouts woke them at first dawn. A freighter ship had come upon them in the night and they were quickly rescued and brought aboard.

Years later, the first mate was walking down the market street in a city that shall not be named. As he passed one of the local shops, he looked in the window and to his surprise; he saw an enormous roasted bird hanging there. It was a butcher’s shop. Proudly displayed on a sign below the roast bird were the words “Special: Roast Albatross.”

The first mate ran into the store as if possessed, madly pushing the customers out of the way and he seized the albatross from the window and with his bare teeth ripped off a portion of its flesh. The crowd later would say, “As the madman chewed and swallowed the flesh, it was as if a wave of peace came over him and madness fled.”

The butcher stood there, cleaver in hand, in case he needed defense and demanded to know what madness this was.

The first mate cleared his throat, wiped the grease off his lips with the back of his hand and apologized for frightening them all. Then, he told them the story about being lost at sea, the albatross and the man who became meat.

“Until this moment,” he said,” I have lived and suffered not knowing which I ate. I have carried with me the burden of guilt that in my darkest hour I chose to rely on fate, even at the cost of another’s life in hopes of saving my own. Now, I know that ’twas not man I ate and I can go on. God may never forgive me for not seeking another way, but I am freed of my horror and will spend the rest of my life helping those the rest of us may see fit to let fate sacrifice.”

c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.


About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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