February 09

I’m back home in Montana now, the warm breezes of the Caribbean a memory growing ever distant under the continued onslaught of spring snow. I’m not one generally susceptible to depression, but for the last few days I’ve been wallowing in a tepid vat of tapioca-textured self-pity. It clings to me, palpable, heavy, sticky. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunshine. Or the constant chill. I hope the cause is as simple as a meteorological condition; otherwise, I might have to look internally and a little introspection can be dangerous. A good, honest internal evaluation might just show that something is missing…something absolutely critical to a well-lived-in life. Something like passion.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about passion since I’ve returned home. Not the sexual, “Oh my god, you’re so hot!” sort, but the kind that propels you from bed in the morning, your brain shouting “Here I am world!”. The kind of passion that is only attainable from a personal commitment to doing something meaningful. Something vital. Something that uniquely defines your existence.

And I think I’ve lost mine. No, that is not accurate…I’m questioning whether I ever really had it. And that is a bit depressing, and even more than a bit frightening. So why the self doubt now?   What is the catalyst that has flung me into this ‘woe is me’ funk? The answer is simple. In the past 16 months my travels have placed me in the company of three people whose individual passions are nearly blinding in their intensity.

I’ve always considered myself a passionate person, more interested in spending my life making a life, than making a living. And yet, when I came into the circle of these three men, my personal passions seemed to fade into shadowy afterthought.

The first man you’ve already met in Sharks and Sailing Ships – Dr. Mark Marks. Here is a man who lives simply, yet most richly in experience. His entire adult life has been in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of a much maligned creature – the Great White Shark, a pursuit that leaves him traveling the world solo, with little material wealth.  And yet, when you meet him, you know something is different, out of the ordinary…from the handshake, to the smile, to the sparkle in the eyes when he discusses his life’s work.

The second man in this trio of light is Mike Austin. I ran into Mike on Saba on my most recent adventure. We actually knew each other over 20 years ago when I worked for a non-profit association of which Mike was a member. At that time he was out of the military and in his early forties teaching scuba diving on Little Cayman. Here he was, 24 years later, still teaching and dive mastering in his sixties, still so passionate about ‘his ocean’ and still refreshingly politically incorrect.

What was a mature, intelligent, physically fit, world-aware man doing on an obscure island, eking out a subsistence living in a work environment populated with transient twenty-something thrill seekers? Step aboard the dive boat MV Mystery with Mike as your personal guide and the query is answered…after 40 plus years of exploring the greatest waters in the world, Mike still has his passion, if anything it is stronger than ever. Underwater, this sun and sea-carved man becomes a wide-eyed child willing to share his life’s adventure with anyone willing to slow down and truly experience his uncommon world.

Rounding out these Musketeers of Passion is Daniel Joseph Gabriel Fitzgerald or Dan Dan the Fireman to his friends – of which he has many. Close your eyes and imagine the stereotypical fireman of Hollywood imagery and you’ve got Dan – a colossal, beer-drinking, Irish Catholic from New York. A big man to start with, Dan grows into a luminous giant when he begins to speak of his life and first love – firefighting.

When I asked Dan why he chose to become a firefighter, he gave me a big smile and said, “All of the superhero jobs were filled and this was the next best thing.” For over twenty years Dan has been doing ‘the next best thing” by saving lives, as well as mentoring others – sounds like a super hero to me.

These three men –disparate in personality, political views, careers and faith – all have that one seemingly rare quality that we should all strive for – passion. Whether our lives are simple or complicated; our jobs menial or grand; our health good or poor; wouldn’t it be wonderful to know how it feels to care passionately about something? To care so passionately that our lives take on greater definition and purpose?

Here’s to all the people I know –and who I’ve yet to meet – who have passion…thank you. When I think of you I can’t possibly be blue…even if it is still snowing!