I am not afraid of storms for I am learning to sail my ship. ~~ Louisa May Alcott
I love that quote.
I have a t-shirt with that quote on it that I’m wearing right now as I begin to type these thoughts. I bought it at a shop when I ran my first 5k in September. September was this really weird month that is foggy, I don’t remember some of the things that took place… some of the things that were said or not said. I just remember I was glad when it left.
October rolled in and I put my t-shirt on and I smiled and I went through the motions of a person who was solid and secure. I decorated some pumpkins and I handed out candy and I took my youngest daughter trick-or-treating. I wrote some things and I met some new people and I tried to wipe the haze out of my eyes so I could see everything properly. I remember being glad when October left as well.
I put my t-shirt back on and sat waiting for November to take over. I thought maybe this would be the month… this would be the time I would remember without wincing. I sold my house and I bought a house and I packed up all my things and I moved. I took care of my house and it welcomed me and my kids and it sheltered us from the storms that were rising up outside. I cooked a Thanksgiving feast and I celebrated with family and I wrote some more things so I could remember. November went so fast, I was glad to see it go.
It was getting cold outside by the time December crashed in. I put my t-shirt back on to remind me that “I am learning…”, because I am. I started to decorate my new home and I hauled a Christmas tree inside and I put up lights and hung the stockings and made cocoa and watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”. I smiled until my cheeks hurt on Christmas morning as I watched my children unwrap boxes and boxes of happy. I wrote a few more things to help me remember and I was a little sad when December had to go.
January brought the new year filled with new hopes and new newness. I put my t-shirt on and marveled at the quote, I laughed because I knew I was still afraid. I knew I was still learning. I started piecing together my house; new paint, new carpet, new furniture, some art, some memories… a delicate balance of the new and the nostalgic. Piecing together my house lead to piecing together my life. I continued to write in the hopes that I would continue to learn. I wanted January to stay a little longer, but it was time to go.
So there I was… watching February end. Patiently learning to sail my ship. Patiently learning… wearing my t-shirt as a reminder that learning is never easy and never quick and sometimes comes with a few tears and a few laughs and a few hearts broken wide open to reveal all the places that somehow mended — somehow, defied all odds and mended. February ended — but I kept going.
March. Just beginning and reeking a bit of havoc on me already. So… on goes my t-shirt. On goes the process of living and learning and sailing my ship. On goes the attempt to understand the quote that I have been wearing and so earnestly trying to live.
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning to sail my ship. ~~ Louisa May Alcott
I am afraid of storms. I always have been. The thunder and the lightning and the possibility of darkness taking over the house and the street and the town. The pounding of rain on the windows so hard they might break any minute. The howling of the wind that rattles the roof with such ferocity I fear it will pop off the house with each new gush. I am afraid of storms.
I can’t control a storm. I just have to let it toss me around, hurdle objects at me, pound its thundering fists against my head. I try to steady myself and gather matches and candles and a cell phone nearby just in case, I ready myself for battle. But in the end, I’m always at its mercy — a position I don’t like.
I’ve been sleeping. Figuratively at first… walking through my life as if I were a robot programmed to perform a set task, never to veer, never to complain, never to long to break free from the cord that held it in place all this time. Then, without warning, I began to sleep physically. Only, it wasn’t sleep. It was a constant battle of awake and restless and groggy and periods of troubled quietness. I found it hard to move. I found it hard to take a step away from the comfort of my sheltered home… my sheltered bed. I couldn’t remember the journey I embarked on a year ago… it seemed so far away.
I don’t understand the concept of needing others. I never understood the concept of co-dependency. I always felt like I was better alone — sorting through my own mess, sailing my own ship. But when a storm came, I found myself reaching out — and now, I’m having a hard time pulling my hand back in. I guess I’m the opposite of co-dependent — I need to force myself to open up to people and be vulnerable around people and let them know I care and I’m better with them around — and I think I would do that… if it didn’t hurt so much when it all goes terrible wrong.
When I was around 12 years-old, I went canoeing with my sister and my father and my grandfather. My grandfather was an avid canoer — he had the most remarkable Old Town canoe that he tied down to the top of his station wagon, he never went anywhere without it. That canoe was so remarkable it is currently on display at the Boy Scout Museum — but that’s another story for another day. We decided to go canoeing in one of the lakes near my home. We packed a picnic basket, we gathered towels and swimsuits, we packed the canoe with all the necessities and we pushed off from shore.
I, being who I was, insisted on steering the canoe — my grandfather reluctantly gave up his seat and there I was, steering the four of us around the lake. We had been paddling for a while — looking at all the birds and creatures on the shore as we lazily floated around. It was a beautiful day — blue skies, a soft warm breeze, bees buzzing in the distance, a fish splashing out of the water to get a peek at us. We found a small island and headed towards it so we could eat our picnic and swim. It was one of those days that you judge all forthcoming days by — the smell of the wind, the taste of the peanut butter sandwich, the sound of the birds, the brightness of the sun and the blueness of the sky. Very few days have measured up to the complete sensory experience of that day.
After lunch my sister and I meandered along the shore, collecting shells and examining driftwood. We talked about sending a message in a bottle, I remember thinking “why?” We weren’t lost, we weren’t in trouble, we didn’t need anything — just the way I liked it. No need to be rescued. Independent. I reluctantly agreed to join her in this quest to send the message filled bottles. I wrote a few… things like, “Hi I’m Becky. I’m 12. I like softball and basketball and football. I like poems.”
We tightened the lids on several bottles and cast them out — watching them as they drifted away. I wondered… ever so briefly, what if? What if someone actually found my bottle? What if someone found my thoughts drifting around in the vast lake (which I assumed would eventually reach the ocean) and cared? What if they felt a spark of connection and for a moment, maybe just a brief moment in time, someone out there was thinking of me? I remember being self-conscious, even at 12. I would worry if I said the right thing or scored enough points in basketball or hit the ball far enough over the fence — I remember the feeling of being under a microscope. Still, even now, the urge to not push publish, the urge to not put a stamp on that card, the urge to not make a phone call or send a text or wave hello. The grip of self-consciousness is never easy to loosen and rarely lets go all together.
Soon I became bored with talk of messages in bottles and insisted that my sister and I be allowed to take the canoe out by ourselves, just up and down the shore, to hone our skills. Guiding that canoe was so empowering — even at 12 I had this feeling of being in control that filled my senses with pride and lust for more. Then it happened. As beautiful as the day had been to that point, a storm rolled in directly on top of us — no warning. Thunder and lightning — the smallness of the canoe became very clear as I used all my newfound abilities to guide my sister and I back to shore to my awaiting father and grandfather.
They wasted no time in throwing all our supplies into the bottom of the canoe and quickly instructed my sister and I to put on life vests. They then shoved the two of us into the bottom of the boat and told us to stay as still as possible so as not to tip the canoe. This did not sit well with me. I knew how to guide the canoe — I didn’t want to be tucked under the seat, helpless. I wanted to be in control.
The rain hurt. It was pouring from the dark sky with such force that it left red welts all over our exposed skin. The lightning seemed to be chasing us. The thunder was laughing hysterically as my father and grandfather used all their muscles to keep us moving toward the shore. The beautiful 90 degree weather was completely gone and we were left in the bottom of this canoe, shivering. I wanted to move so bad, I wanted to help row the canoe, I wanted to not be helpless. There were people on the shore watching us struggle, there was nothing they could do. The determination and expertise of my grandfather, who was well into his 70’s at that point, was unparalleled.
We made it to the shore that day — tired, scared, wet. I was exhausted from sitting still. Not moving can weigh you down. It can secure you in a choke hold so tight that the thought of any movement is immediately squelched. Stillness can sometimes be an impossible concept. Everything turned out okay even though I wasn’t in control. I stilled my thoughts and my body for that brief moment in time and let the storm toss me around as I gazed up from the bottom of that canoe at the steely arms of my father and grandfather. I trusted. I let them battle the storm for me. I waited, patiently, for the storm to pass. I held out my hand and allowed it to be grabbed hold of — I don’t always need to pull it back.
So I’ll think back on that day when I need to be reminded that it’s good to have people around you — they can help you reach the shore. They can shake you awake when you’re sleeping, or pretending to sleep, and show you what you’ve been missing. I am somewhat of a new convert to the theory that people are connected, that people need each other, that it’s okay to have a friend in your corner.
I’m still having trouble pulling my hand back in… I guess it knows that eventually the right person will grab hold. I guess my hand knows that there’s other people with their hands outstretched as well — not afraid to hold on.
I have someone shaking me awake right now — someone reminding me why I should be alive and alert and awake. Someone reminding me to put plenty of messages in those bottles — they will be read eventually.
On goes my shirt… and I smile as I read the quote. I’m learning to sail my ship… I just steer it a little differently then I’m supposed to. Or maybe not. I’m hoping there isn’t a right way to learn about yourself and your place in the world — as long as you learn. And as always, I’m holding on to hope… and leaving a few messages in bottles — hoping…
This, possibly, has nothing to do with anything…