It is a plagiarized phrase, from a short story written by Brazil’s (often-considered) greatest writer, Machado de Assis. It is that heavy material, where a large quantity of gravel, iron, metals, etc., placed low in a vessel in order to provide stability; the weight itself is what “grounds” the vessel so that the torrents of waves and storms of fury will not topple it. Or, it can refer to the coarse gravel used in order to set railroad tracks, again allowing for stability of a foundation to prevent shifting, sinking or damaging movement.
When combined with the term, “the soul”, the concept created is one of conjoining the dual ideas of (a) providing a foundation with (b) an ungraspable concept of an entity that many believe does not even exist. The “soul”, of course, is a controversial subject; for, it still remains from the vestiges of religious and philosophical discourses, and refers to an abiding entity that defies mortality, retains an identity beyond one’s physical appearance, and contains the essence of who a person is, whether in physical form or not.
Does the soul “need” a ballast? Without it, does it merely flit about without duration or direction?
As a literary concept, it refers to the stability that individuals need in order to become more serious, more focused, and perhaps even more “mature”. As a general idea, it comes to convey the concept of pragmatism and the need to be “grounded” in a universe where there exists so many beliefs, so many paths to get off course; and the dangers inherent in pulling people aside from living an authentic and fulfilling life are many, as evidenced by the number of wandering souls left to rot on the roadside of discarded souls.
What is the ballast for the soul? Is it to be married and have a family? Is it the immediate family one already has — or the extended one? Or can a cadre of friends and one’s immediate neighbors provide the ballast for the soul?
For each individual, the answer to that question may differ and remain a mystery; but what is clear, mystery or not, is that the vicissitudes of life’s choices, without a ballast for the soul, are so numerous and of such great variety, that liberty of endless choices endangers the essence of every person. Health itself can be an unknown ballast; for, with it, we take for granted our ability to accomplish so many things in life; without it — when it is “lost” — we suddenly realize that the ballast of health can upend that which we took for granted — career; stability; sense of worth; sense of self.
For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers whose ballast has been lost because of a medical condition, it may be time to prepare, formulate and file for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Medical conditions are often the storms of life which topple the vessel once the foundation of stability has been robbed, and Federal Disability Retirement benefits can restore one’s sense of security such that a re-focusing upon the priority of health and well-being can be attained, so that the ballast for the soul can be reestablished in a world full of turmoil and tumult.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire