Deep down, I don’t really believe in the possibility of change. This can get you into trouble, given the everyday evidence by which we are all surrounded, that change is the one aspect of life that one can really count on. Regardless, knowing that does not come naturally to me.
Sailing is fantastic, because it’s all about change, and adapting, and changing again. For someone who doesn’t believe in change – whose mind simply does not wrap around the concept – sailing is a marvelous, ultimately neutral affirmation of the possibility of change, moment to moment, week to week, and endlessly on, if one so chooses.
Some explanation is in order: how does one become a person who simply does not “get” change?
It takes big stuff. Or Stuff – the same sort of thing that would inspire going off in a small boat on a big ocean. And the Stuff is indeed big. I am a survivor, of severe childhood trauma/abuse. There are those who would say that this did not happen, and I am not here to argue the point, one way or the other. We all remember, and don’t remember, and survive, in the best way that we can come up with at the time. Regardless of who says what, this experience informs my entire being, from day-to-day life, to the long cycles of decades. It has become a teacher, though it’s a rough road.
My friend Dave, of triloboats.com, wrote a great article about some sailing that he and Anke and I did together (“The Able Bodied Sea-Person — Expanding the Notion” in the magazine Messing about in Boats, January 2013). While we were talking about this article, before he wrote it, he said something that stayed with me. I was saying that I don’t think that physical abilities, or limitations thereof, should be central to the story of me going sailing. To which he gently replied “that is the story.” This in the context that we are both pretty bored by “sailing travelogues.” (If you’re in this blog for sailing travelogues, it would be best to go back to the smugmug photos linked in the entry “previous trips”…)
Anyway, that was last October, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I don’t think that the physical limitations are the story, and what I do think actually is the story. Which is this: I go sailing because I am a survivor of horrific abuse, and sailing makes sense to me. The challenges, the difficulties, the moments of joy, the meeting one’s physical limits, and sitting in that place of strain, by choice. The power of the sea (this has been said so many times that it’s utterly trite – but it’s still true) – the way that the tides and the currents come and go, predictably, and the wind comes and goes, much more on its own personal schedule, with the waves following. Ease, and difficulty, and risk, the need for constant vigilance, the blessed solitude. The loneliness. The fear. It’s all there, and it is my privilege to have the opportunity to spend time with it. This is why I go sailing. I sit with my fear, in the presence of a force that is vastly, overwhelmingly greater than myself, and completely, utterly not malevolent. Whoever said “the cruel sea” didn’t know cruelty – one can come to terrible grief on the sea, but it won’t be because anybody was mean. That’s the point.
I’m likely to come back to the various connections – I like sailing, and boat building, and boat tinkering, enormously because they so appeal to my techie, engineering nature. But that deep draw, that keeps me coming back over and over through fairly substantial obstacles, is bigger than the techie fun, and bigger than the lovely sparkle on the water. I keep coming back because it’s real, and because it sustains me, and because it provides a container, and a structure, for the biggest of big questions.