We must free ourselves

A sailboat off the coast of Barbados, March 2010

A sailboat off the coast of Barbados, March 2010

“We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest.  We must learn to sail in high winds.” Aristotle Onassis

Whatever else might be said of Aristotle Onassis, he certainly learned to make the most of adverse circumstances.  His family’s experiences could have led him into poverty.  Instead he became one of the world’s wealthiest men, though the details of his biography suggest his ethics were not equal to his determination.

Ethical questions aside, I appreciate his words quoted above, because I have found them to be true again and again.  It might seem strange that a blog called “Defeat Despair” would highlight a quote about freeing ourselves from hope.  But freedom from false hope can actually be an important part of overcoming setbacks. It allows us to adjust to misfortune or grief rather than denying it with wishful thinking.

When Jeff was first diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcinoma, we read up and immediately came face to face with the bluntly unfavorable prognosis that was confirmed by his doctors.  A blessing we did not expect was the upbeat attitude of those who have provided his treatments.  They are candid in discussing the battle he faces, but many of them have encouraged us to look at cancer as a chronic condition rather than a death sentence; to resolve to live with cancer rather than focusing on dying from it.  To the extent that we have done this, we have been more able to weather the many difficult days, and cherish the relatively easy or peaceful ones, no matter how few and far between.

The next time you find yourself using the words “if only” or “I can’t wait until” or “when things calm down a bit,” remember the words of the Greek shipping magnate who harnessed the power of the unruly seas to bring himself legendary fortune.  Don’t wish for easier circumstances that may never arrive.  Learn to sail in the high winds.  It will be good experience — and perhaps it will be unexpectedly invigorating.

This post was first published seven years ago today. The ideas expressed herein among those most relevant to how the past four years have unfolded in my life. I’ve been freed from whatever hopes I had left for my life, and I’m learning to focus (at least for now) on harnessing the winds, or in some cases, simply staying afloat. 

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Thank you for this, Julia, and also for all the posts you share. You have been blessed with an uncommon wisdom and an ability to wrap deep thoughts in encouraging words. Your posts speak something special to me and I’m sure your other readers feel the same way. They cause me to reflect on my own life, my own good memories and my own struggles. We all have much in common even though the details of our lives are greatly varied.

    Your uplifting thoughts are personally helpful to me as I try to stay positive during these difficult times. Learning to sail in high winds seems to be a lesson that keeps repeating itself in this school we call life. Things always do eventually calm down a bit though, at least for a little while, before a new set of winds come up. At least I like to think so. Unlike Aristotle Onassis, I need a rest between the winds or even in the midst of the winds. My faith gives me that. But I do like reflecting on his quote today.

    • Judy, thank you so much for your thoughtful words. It means a great deal to me to have your presence and encouragement. Yes, it’s amazing how consistent the human struggle remains, across all circumstances, cultures and personal traits. When I really think on that, it’s easier for me to have more patience and understanding when it is called for– which it often is these days! By the way — Bonnie and I were chatting on the phone the other day, and she said “Let’s go back to Pennsylvania!” I knew just how she felt. 🙂 ❤ I am still promising my sister that I'll get her up there one of these days!

  2. Susan

    Oh, Julia. You’ve had higher winds than most, and concentrated in a relatively short period of time, although it must have felt never-ending at the time. And yes, now to keep going forth in the aftermath. You have great courage, even though you didn’t want to need it. And I’m grateful that you continue to share your wisdom here. So much of what you wrote years ago applies to situations many people are finding themselves in with today’s challenges. Love to you.

    • Susan, thank you so much. Going through these posts has been an interesting process for me. Not only because I’ve forgotten so many of them totally– there were far too many to keep up with– but also because, though I tried to write them in a way that went beyond the circumstances that drove me to write them, I am still surprised at how many of them speak to what we are enduring today, or at least what I am enduring. I’m always wrestling with the question of whether or not to continue re-posting them, but for now I’ll continue, and your encouragement is a real strength and gift. Thank you again!!

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