Every life journey will inevitably be cobbled with periods of unrest and uncertainty. As we travel through life we will come upon paths that have become overgrown or muddied. It’s not easy to tell which direction to go. We quite easily lose our way.
It is during these times that we question our lives and the surroundings we find ourselves in. How did I get here? Where am I going? How will I know if I’m headed in the right direction? What tools and supplies will I need along the way to help me reach my destination? We search everywhere we can, trying to find clues. We often can’t tell if the paths that we find are the ones leading forward or the ones we came in on. The faster we charge ahead without any real direction, the more befuddled we become. Conviction is replaced by ambivalence. Our doubts quickly turn to fear.
We all experience these dilemmas in life, because some things are just universal.
But just as we are not the first to become lost, we will not be first to find our way forward. When we rely on the wisdom of those who have gone before us, we are able to find a unique clarity not apparent to those choosing to stumble through the brush without any guidance. And so it is today that I turn to a wiser and more learned man than myself.
There is a time-honored document, well known within Navy circles, that experiences little renown within the rest of society. Penned in 1896, by Ronald A Hopwood, an officer in the British Royal Navy, these “Laws” are just as valid today as they were at the time they were written and have inspired many a sailor to make enlightened, effective decisions throughout not only his Navy career, but his life. I hope that you will find them just as inspiring and that they will provide you some much needed guidance on your own journey through life.
Though a Harveyised belt may protect her
The ship bears the scar on her side;’
‘Tis well if the Court should acquit thee —
But ’twere best had’st thou never been tried.
As the wave washes clear at the hawse pipe,
Washes aft, and is lost in the wake;
So shalt thou drop astern all unheeded
Such time as these laws ye forsake.
Take heed in your manner of speaking
That the language ye use may be sound,
In the list of the words of your choosing
“Impossible” may not be found.
Now these are the Laws of the Navy,
And many and mighty are they.
But the hull and the deck and the keel
And the truck of the law is — OBEY.
Many versions of this poem exist, as it has been altered and changed over the years. The above plates are reproductions of a WWI era version of the poem and were taken from the Naval Historical Center website. The alternate ending text can be found in this full-length version or at bluejacket.com.