This afternoon I went to an estate sale close to where I live. I have to say that I do not feel at ease entering the home of someone who very likely died only a few days before. I feel it's violating the privacy of the person. I feel like it's accessing his or her intimate secrets through the objects, the books, the souvenirs, the mementos, the medicines, even the food which is still in the fridge.

You are able to assess a lot about this person: hobbies, culture, interests, and financial status. Everything is left as it was the day before his death. Everything has a price and a ticket. You buy her life. In this case it was a navy officer who died. I walked through the rooms willing to respect the man and his home. I was immersed in his life: the pictures at the Naval Academy, the flight jacket, his wife's wedding dress, and the bowling league prize. He's gone now. In a few hours his life will be sold.

I came across a book: Watch Officer's Guide, issued in 1956. He must have been young at the time. As a naval officer I was immediately attracted by the book and bought it for $9. I started to read it. After the introduction it reported:

"It is not humanly possible to be letter perfect in everything that may concern an officer of the deck. The superior watch officer, however, is always ready for any situation that may arise and, for that reason, the most important faculty to be cultivated is forehandedness. Always look ahead, a minute, an hour, or a day, and make it to your pride never to be caught unprepared. Rehearse mentally the action you would take in the event of a fire, a man overboard, a steering failure, or any other serious casualty.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of safety. [He must] observe intelligently all that comes within his vision, both outside and inside the ship, but his vigilance must extend beyond this. He must cultivate the faculty of foreseeing situations, as well as seeing them. The same type of mental lethargy which will permit an officer of the deck to stand abreast a lighted gangway after sunrise _ will fail to detect in time an incipient collision.

"On a darkened destroyer in high-speed work at night only essentials count and you must key your mind to its keenest pitch. Finally, he must have technical knowledge of his job. He must know the relative importance of his many responsibilities. He must have experience."

I went back with memory to the time when I served onboard ships as officer of the deck, and I recognized myself in these words of wisdom. "Still valid at sea after quite a few decades." Then I left his home with an undefined sense of sadness.

Thanks, old man, for the time spent together today.

From Victor Hrehorovich:

The Watch Officer's Guide applies to many officers of the deck. The "deck" is everywhere; everywhere an officer is given responsibility to make sure that unforeseen events are kept from becoming catastrophes. They are very applicable to the medical profession! Thanks for sharing these thoughts with me. I will incorporate them in my upcoming address to our first graduating class. 





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