Abby's Odyssey: In Defense of the Sunderlands

Abby Sunderland's recent adventure has everyone questioning teen safety. It all depends one how one defines it.


Parents, where are your teenage daughters? They had better be "safe" at home watching the perverse antics of Disney role models like Miley Cyrus or Lindsay Lohan on TV. Perhaps they're "safe" at school, where they are being educated about the sexual revolution, and in some states, being ushered "safely" by administrators to a clinic where the abortion procedure will be administered with you parents none the wiser. At the very worst, one can rest assured that even if America's daughters have ventured to a house party -- where the parents have purchased and readied all the alcohol and prophylactics -- never fear, because those parents have taken each attendee's keys. All are locked inside and "safe"! 


In any of these cases, parents, hit your knees and thank God that your daughter does not run the risk that Abby Sunderland does. As far as I can tell, that is the ruggedly individualist risk of running roughshod, acquiring and exercising true grit, and cultivating a classical skill a tad more aged than cheerleading or speed-texting. The progressive parent asks: Is Abby Sunderland a teenage girl at all? Not a typical one: this aberration from the norm, and not any safety violation, is the true charge against Abby and the Sunderlands.


Cue the chirping sectaries in the news media; they're up. It's always a little strange -- and quite awkward -- when those relativists in the news muster enough moral sentiment, from time to time, to actually impugn someone. When they do so, it is never the right target. News folks have usually by that point stepped around dens of thieves and vipers to get to their next "fall guy": usually just a harmless, individualist soul not well-attuned to the drumbeat of liberalism. This is the case, no doubt, with the Sunderlands, whose foreheads are now feeling all the applied moral heat of the progressive-parent crucible, represented by popular news sources. Happily for the Sunderlands, progressive heat is rather tepid.


In a befuddling combo, society mavens prescribe both naturalist coddling and sexual prompting for our daughters. While the progressive approach to parenting has usually sounded that "children should make and learn from their own mistakes," stalwart young Abby's adventure has proven that liberal parents mean this only in the moral and sexual contexts. Trying your experienced hand at a legitimate craft which requires fortitude, skill, and even phronesis (Greek for practical knowledge) ought to be excluded from the relevance of such a dictate, apparently. In other words, the goal of child-rearing is, according to these "progressives," to cloister our daughters from the reality of the amoral, natural forces of the world while exposing them to all the immoral, conventional ones. And contrary to the teachings of the best thinkers ever produced, it is false that there are things worse than death. 


This renders young Abby Sunderland neither fish nor fowl. She is neither parentally coddled from the earth's forces nor suffering from ennui sufficient to land her in the toil and moil of "harmless" teen concupiscence. The lib establishment cannot accept that a young woman has looked for her jollies outside the musty teen world that they have so deified. Hollywood, for one example, is an industry of middle-aged burnouts looking fondly backward to the empty promise of the teens; conversely, Sunderland is a teen who looks to the horizon of more meaningful post-teen endeavors. Neither fish nor fowl also because she was neither made male, like her brother, who performed the same feat at seventeen, nor made supple and mediocre like the pseudo-sexy pudgemeisters on the Disney channel (whose corporate aim, I've gathered, is to muddle all the bright-line age requirements in the heterosexual book).


In that vein, where in the world are the feminists, if not at the side of the Sunderlands? Surprisingly, feminists might be of some use in this case (perhaps they've forsworn usefulness): A young woman would be denied the facility of her well-honed skills on account of her gender! If the true aim of feminism is to show that females possess all the desiderata males do, one might mistake the silence prompted by Abby's sailing excellence for laudation. To those who deny that Abby possesses the skills requisite for her journey, please take another look at the course that she pursued. She made it halfway around. One abjectly unequipped for such a try would not make it that far. So why did she fail?


Answering this question is perhaps the most prominent lesson instructed by the whole affair. It's the ultimate classical lesson, learnable from the ultimate classical craft: the tragic worldview amor fati, loving life through both success and failure. One can make all the right moves and possess all the right skills and still fail. If our pudgy youth had a dose of well-fought, weather-worn failure, it would be a national shot in the arm. Contrary to the bumper stickers, this is not "mean" or "unfair." It is life. Abby Sunderland is hip to this tragic lesson, stoically quipping, "The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave and one short mast." God bless her...and her parents, who evidently made the way ready for such precocious wisdom. Such practical wisdom will grace her life with successes in the long run, no doubt, just as the failure to acquire it will render an overly soft, overly safe, overly sexed society...and one ironically impotent.