It’s very interesting and very odd here at the USNA. I’m sitting on a wall. Below me, between me and the sea, young men and women run in squads. Their voices carry on the wind. Beyond them someone is laying on the horn in one of their torpedo boats. I think it might be an alert practice but it makes me think of London in rush hour.
The voices, the bells, the wind in the trees, shouts of numbers, of instructions, screams of frustration and celebration and under it all the birds. And song.
They sing a lot here. They sing about goats and guns and the sea. And they learn things. Their brains are getting well exercised. If any of the freshmen gets asked “How long have you been in the navy?” they will respond with this:
“All me bloomin’ life, sir!
Me mother was a mermaid, me father was King Neptune.
I was born on the crest of a wave and rocked in the cradle of the deep.
Seaweed and barnacles are me clothes.
Every tooth in me head s a marlinspike; the hair on me head is hemp.
Every bone in me body is a spar, and when I spits, I spits tar!
I’se hard, I is, I am, I are”
They learn it by heart. They’re all expanding their memories and their possibilities. Learning, cross disciplinary. The humanities students still all study differential calculus and engineering. They are going to be sending a bunch of extremely fit curious polymaths into service on these boats and subs and helicopters. Polymaths trained to kill. And I can’t help but admire them. I’ve often found it to be the case that the officers I’ve got to know from the armed forces have had poetic souls. My dad’s great friend was a submariner and a glorious kind man to boot.
I was in three big rooms surrounded by freshmen – midshipmen – getting them to engage with Shakespearean text, getting them to have an effect on each other with words, obliquely teaching another aspect of leadership through just an hour long class on Twelfth Night. At one point, laughing in a circle of them, I noticed how hard these young men and women were. They are all in peak fitness. I can barely drag myself to a yoga class once a month. I would lose to every single one of them in a fight. Surrounded by forty of them, they’d crush my bones to make their bread, although they all are so incredibly nice as well so that’d never happen. If I attacked them they’d probably efficiently and effortlessly restrain me and then sing songs until I calmed down.
I can’t catch up with their fitness but it makes me want to get fitter, just becoming aware of the distance between me, all wild hair and beard and words and ideas, and these lean streamlined beings with their discipline and their responsibility. I think I decided as a young man that fitness and intelligence were mutually exclusive, and since I aspired to the latter, I avoided the former. It’s to my detriment. I need to start getting into the gyms in these hotels I’m staying in across the states. And drink a bit less. Ha. Chance’d be a fine thing…