Monday, April 7, 2014

Oh America you make my heart hurt.

A few days ago, Charlotte and Eric Kaufman on the sailing vessel Rebel Heart found it necessary to call the Coast Guard for assistance on the trans-Pacific portion of their around-the-world journey. They took off a couple weeks ago from Mexico on their 36 foot cruising boat with their two young children. Nine hundred miles later the youngest child became seriously ill.

For any of you who are parents, you have surely suffered sleepless nights holding your children, agonizing whether to take them to the emergency room, praying for them to feel better, and wishing you could trade places with them. I can only imagine the addition of knowing that you are 900 miles from any help. As long time sailors, they debated whether to call for assistance, knowing that with the origination of that call they would set a rescue mission into motion, one that could not be undone once started, one that could possibly put rescuers at risk. They are caring people who would not make a decision like this lightly, but the call was made. They may as well have set off an atom bomb.

Charlotte Kaufman is a unique woman. She suffered through a childhood of sexual abuse, and while she could have justified crawling into a corner and whimpering until her eventual descent into insanity, she chose instead to reach out and help other women. She honestly and tastefully shared her story on her blog to encourage other victims to seek help. She also started a Facebook group called Women Who Sail, a group designed to help women having difficulties adjusting to what can sometimes be a sudden transition to full-time liveaboad or cruising lifestyles. Many of these women were pulled into the lifestyles as a reluctant participant in their spouse or significant other's dream and found themselves foundering. The group she established is now a place of education and positive support for more than three thousand women. To say she is a strong and highly capable woman is an understatement, and as many such strong women, she has drawn her share of criticism and borne it graciously.

Within hours of their call, the news media machine began churning out reports. Local news, national news, internet news, radio news, (all grabbing their share of readership stats) began to post the story.  Many of them pulled soundbites from both Charlotte's and Eric's blogs, very nearly all of them out of context. The comments began to flow. Some (who didn't know them) raged about their irresponsibility. Others (who didn't know them) raged about their abuse of the system. Still others (who didn't know them) called them names of every color. Everyone seemed to know what was best for this family, even though they didn't know them. Within two days their blog posts were tagged with hundreds of comments filled with hate and threats. The listing of a book that Eric wrote was filled with hate comment reviews. Curiously, most of the commenters have never sailed or attempted anything more challenging to their comfort zone than trying a new brand of beer while watching football in their easy chair. Oh how brave we become with the anonymity of the internet.

We wrote recently that one of the things we've discovered about the Bahamian nation is that they are, as a whole, a very happy people. Everywhere you go you are greeted with smiles. Even though they, as a whole, have many less possessions than the average US citizen, and their economy is in the dirt as well, they still greet each other with courtesy. Everywhere you hear laughter and see bright, whimsical colors. People care for each other, and there is a real sense of community. It's hard to believe that 42 miles from Miami a culture can be so vastly different

Nowhere is the contrast more stark than in the arena of an incident like this one with the Kaufmans. The reaction of the public to Charlotte and Eric's trauma has left me hurting. The abject viciousness of the commenters, the brutal language, the sheer vitriol, is painful. I sit here looking out at the beautiful, quaint waterfront town of Spanish Wells, reading the vicious attacks on these people I call my friends, and I hope and pray that the influence of our deteriorating society somehow manages to pass this place by.

(Ed Note: comments have been turned off for this post.)