Retired sea-captain-turned-novelist Captain Claw lives in the San Francisco Bay.
My nephew-in-law stopped by today. Wants me to visit the military academy (where he’s the head honcho) and “inspire the kids with a story illustrating the triumphs of Captain Claw.”
When I was a young crab, I imagined giving Big Important Speeches. Of course, I was still a Believer. Now the thought of inspiring young crabs to unflinchingly hurl themselves at life fills me with a kind of dread. I’ve seen too much. I know too much. How can I, with a clear conscience, rally the troops to dive once more into the abyss?
Then, in a moment of rich clarity, it dawned on me, and I knew what I must say.
I showed up at the assembly. They played “Captain Claw” over the loudspeakers and the sergeant led the cadets in a singalong: Captain Claw, Captain Claw, you sure look snappy we’re simply in awe. The song ended. They saluted me. I took the podium.
“I’ve come here today to talk about faith,” I began. Some looked surprised. “No, not our faith in the Great Whale migration, which of course no crab in his right mind would question. I’m speaking of a more basic faith, the kind that helps you amble sideways down the street and see light shining both in the world and from it. But before I talk about faith, let me first talk about doubt.”
I looked out at my audience. Despite the audible undulations of a passing sturgeon, I still had them.
“At this time of your life, perhaps you stare in the mirror and wonder whether your claws are big enough. Your shell red enough. It’s ironic that you’re most worried about your appearance at the exact time when it matters least.”
A few eyes stared at the gym floor.
“Even with these fleeting moments of self-doubt, on the whole you’re probably confident. Sure of your ability to attack the world and make your place in it. No doubt, one as talented and hard-working and special as you should be welcomed by the world with open claws!”
In the water I sensed waves of optimism mixed with unease.
“I have news for you. News that you, of course, already know. Crabs are cruel. Viciously and senselessly violent. Wantonly and willfully ignorant. Despicable. Deplorable. Disheartening. And as you go through life, you’ll face wave after unceasing wave of them. Which brings me to faith.”
The ones staring at the floor looked up at me.
“We must still believe. Believe that crabs are basically good. If not in aggregate, then surely individually. We must believe that decency and virtue and courage are, at bottom, the sacred ocean floor of society. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we must believe that the callous and greedy ultimately lose—and by our belief, and our hard work, make it so. Good triumphs in the end, and love—love conquers all.”
I stepped back from the podium. Someone played “Captain Claw” again at full volume. There was a smattering of claw-snapping applause that grew louder. Cadets began cheering, “Huzzah Captain Claw! Huzzah!”
Did I really reach these boys? I believe so.