My boat has tipped over. I’m in the water, wet, annoyed, frustrated and upset. I don’t like this at all. When I was younger I had my feet in the water, safe on the shore. Soon I ventured out to see if I could stomach the waves. They splashed over my body and I was fine. Then, I was given a surf board. I learnt to ride the waves, to work with their power, and to understand that I could never really get hurt this way, it was just water falling over me.
When I grew older I was invited into my very own boat. I accepted the invitation. I went out to sea and all was very well. I enjoyed the sensation of sailing, of rowing, of moving about in any direction I liked. There was the sun, the glistening sea, the beautiful waves, and I marveled at all of it whenever I chose – the night sky, the deep ocean dark, the horizons I had left and that which I was heading towards, imagining, as a mirage, what I might find there. I never contemplated reaching land again. For me, life was the sea. To reach land again was the end of the horizons, of course it was death. I didn’t expect any horizons for some time, and yet I knew that there would be at least one at some point. That sand would be a homecoming, and yet the experience would be different from that of my youth, when I’d first dipped my toes in the sea, at the beginning of this inexplicable journey.
So you can imagine how much of a shock it was when my sturdy and trustworthy boat – that which I had used so gratefully to survey the scenery around me and within me, that which had supported and carried me – suddenly ceased to do so, and was capsized by a particularly large wave. It cannot be fathomed exactly what caused the large wave, nor can it be said to have been any more disruptive to an alternate animal. It was disruptive to me, however, and my boat. Here I was, with everything that I had known to be trustworthy now upside down and drifting through a fathomless sea. I am attempting to find the oars for the first time. I am more tired than I have ever been.
I must add that my sole purpose for being in this boat and on this sea in the first place, is that I have had a particular map with me for a very long time. This map is very old and very worn, and yet it feels as if it has been written into the palm of my hand. I cannot lose it and it cannot lose me. The map is my path, it shows me True North. It also points out the terrain with all its previously experienced pitfalls and chasms, the previously surveyed scenery, as it stood before. Time honored and trust-worthy, the map is my compass. However, the map cannot predict sudden phenomena along the path. It can only show you your location on said path.
How can I pay close attention to the map when I am using my hands to stay afloat in a suddenly frightful sea? How can I use the map now when I’m treading such deep water? I feel (sadly) the map is useless now – I need to focus on getting my boat back in the upright position, and starting again toward the goal. The goal seems far from my mind at this time. There are more pressing matters to attend to. Thankfully from previous sailing lessons, I know exactly how to turn a boat that has capsized. I take a tethered rope and throw it across the upturned hull. Each action takes enormous effort and energy. At some point soon I will grab the rope with both my hands, plant my feet at the edge of the vessel, and pull continuously. This will right the boat.
But, I must gather some strength first. My fears are that I will tire and stop fighting the urge to relax into the deep. I fear both relaxing into the deep, and the potentially dangerous creatures which science says I’d be likely to find down there. So, there is desire to relax and a desire to fight. I chose to take moments of both, preventing descent but also tempering the speed at which I move forward. I don’t want to wear myself out. I keep breathing. It is the one thing continual at this time.
Eventually, I will get back in the boat. I soon notice that there are benevolent creatures who are assisting me, even as I think I’m doing it “by myself.” There’s a very kind sea turtle who allows me to rest on her shell every so often, and a dolphin who reminds me of the joy that is always available to experience. There are great whales who sing to me from very far away, comforting and rebalancing me, and numerous fish, porpoises and birds, too, calling from what feels to be a very far distance.
As I’m paddling in the water, gaining new confidence, I suddenly remember that I have a map that’s always been with me. It has been hard to dismiss it, through all of this effort and wetness. It has been hard to admit to myself that yes, this happened, and your pretty boat with its sturdy confidence and your optimistic outlook, was capsized. We cannot tell you why. You are doing a great job getting back in again. Isn’t it interesting also from this perspective? I feel annoyed with the map and those who wrote it, and slightly disgruntled that I’m stuck with the same map, whose destination I’m not sure I’ll ever reach. I realize that the going is what’s most important, that the following of the map is honorable, and that the diligence in keeping my boat seaworthy and my outlook bright are both conducive to a more enjoyable adventure.
Writing is my map, and the boat is this body, my vessel. The ocean is life itself and the destination is not knowable. It’s an ongoing process, this journey with writing. Who am I and why am I here? I am a sailor and I’m on an adventure.