The incident, as is often the case, wasn't what was important. No, the incident was just another chapter in my seaman's journal: stowaways. First time for me. We allegedly picked them up in Venezuela, and I say allegedly as our lawyers, quite accurately, are maintaining that no stowaways were found onboard our vessel, nor were they seen leaving the rudder trunk void where they allegedly rode for over a week, sealed in darkness by the salty Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, then in turn the fresh but muddy Mississippi, eating canned tuna, limes, and whatever else it was that we found in that blue duffel bag packed out with Spanish labeled groceries.
No, that wasn't it. Nor was the subsequent search and interrogation by Customs, Border Patrol agents, and the USCG what was important. The detention of the ship, the external security audit, and the miles (kilometers?) of paperwork that has already, and will continue to be, required? Just the setting for the really crucial aspect to this story.
The Captain, a bit rattled by the whole situation, and wanting to cooperate fully with the investigation, knowing that we didn't collaborate with the alleged stowaways, and that we had a certificate from the Venezuela port security that had used drug sniffer dogs to search the interior of the vessel, and divers to search the exterior (including the rudder void where the alleged stowaways allegedly hid), allowed the USCG to conduct a search of the vessel. The USCG was looking for any link between a crewmember and the stowaways that would indicate a conspiracy to smuggle the illegals into Louisiana. Now, they're allowed to search the common spaces (galley, engineroom, pumproom, bridge, etc.) without impediment, but for crew personal spaces (such as my stateroom) they actually require a search warrant.
The Captain, however, let them search each room, without a warrant, and without the crewmember being present (apparently he doesn't watch Law and Order often enough). Like the broken headlight that leads to the cops finding the contraband in the trunk, the USCG uncovered a theft unrelated to the stowaways. When they searched M_____'s cabin, they found a suitcase packed to the gills with tools, gloves, winter jump suits, pretty much any and everything he could get his hands on to steal.
Once we set sail for St. Eustatius, we had to do our own internal investigation. What did M_____ have to say for himself? The Captain, C/E and myself called M_____ to the Captains office and began our questioning: where did this stuff come from? What do you have to say for yourself?
“I did not steal it.” That was M_____'s contention, and he stood fast with that line. “Did you buy the tools? I want to see a receipt.” ... “No” ... “Then where did they come from?” ... “They came to my cabin.” ... “They came to your cabin? What does the mean?” ... “I don't want to say.”
And on and on it went. He was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, yet insisted that he didn't take any cookies, those crumbs on his shirt weren't his, and they were his cookies anyway. Eventually, little by little the story came out. He got the winter work clothes from C___ (not his to give). The tools? An unlocked tool shed at the terminal in Kalundborg, Denmark.
Concurrent with this theft, I was reading Les Misérables, and when M_____ came to me later that day and asked if I could give him another chance, I was suddenly faced with my own sin. I recalled the scene where Jean Valjean is brought red handed to the Bishop with the silver dishes in his bag.
“Ah, there you are!” said he, looking towards Jean Valjean, “I am glad to see you. But! I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs. Why did you not take them with your plates?”
After explaining to the gendarmes that Jean Valjean was on the up and up
The bishop approached him, and said, in a low voice:
“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.”
Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded. The bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them. He continued, solemnly:
“Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”
I recalled my reaction to the investigation of M_____'s theft, a theft not even of things that were mine: “You're a liar and thief, and completely full of shit. Try selling that line of bullshit to someone else, 'cause I'm not buying it. Do you think we're stupid??? Captain,” I said, turning to the old man. “I recommend that he be logged and terminated.” Turning back to M_____, I continued my harangue. “I don't know how we can work together after this. We had a relationship. We had a friendship. There was a level of trust. But that's gone now. It's shattered like a mirror, and it can't be put back together”
Thirty minutes later, M____ approached me down in the control room. “Can you give me second chance?” he asked me.
He caught me off guard. I looked at him. “I don't know. I don't know if you're for real, or if you're just playing me for a chump. The trust is gone. It's not like a light switch, turn it on, turn it off, turn it on again.”
“I'm trying to change. I led a bad life. I should have been in jail many times, but my Father was important man, so I escaped.”
He stared at his feet for a bit. “Please ask Captain not to log me. If he logs me, everyone will know, it will be impossible for me.”
“I'm not changing my position on that. I'm still advising the Captain to log you.”
“If I was single man ... whatever. I take consequences. But I have wife, I have child. I need to take care of them, please ask him not to log me.”
“Consequences are important. This is a gift from God, it's as if He reached down from heaven and made you get caught, to wake you up, to give you the opportunity to change.”
We continued talking for awhile. Was he repenting? What does it mean to forgive? Doesn't he have to face the consequences? Do I only forgive after he repents? I remembered the Bishop, he showed grace to Jean Valjean, and only then did Jean Valjean repent, and change. It was the grace that enabled him to repent. It's the same with God; we repent because he already forgave us. Why was it so important that I not be a chump? That I not get played? That M____'s sin was obvious, but mine was hidden, that was the true story here. And that God showed me grace despite the selfish retention of my pride.
Final note: I finished Les Misérables, it was brilliant. But Cosette? Jean Valjean is awesome, but Cosette is a petulant ninny.