Saturday, May 24, 2014

Life is Short...

. . . eat dessert first.

Going cruising revealed that I am not the go-far, off-shore, adventuresome sailor envisioned while plying the fearsome waters of Carlyle Lake. Overnight runs to places not much further than 100 nm miles away are more my speed. One hundred nautical miles is far enough to be out of sight of land for much of a day, or night, and I have had the rare privileged of helming a small boat over the horizon in the deep watches of the dark. It is a magic place out there. What matters and what doesn't is different than on land. On the sea, names mean nothing, neither does history or background, race or religion. All that really matters is that one manage to keep on sailing.

All truly magic places have monsters and demons, things that can challenge and test and frighten those bold enough to venture that way.  For sailors there are storms and waves and falling masts.  It is part and parcel, these things that can stop the sailing.  Magic and monsters go hand in hand.

Where I travel now, magic is hard to come by.  Much of my day is spent in a place most sailors dread more than any creature hiding in the deepest ocean, a nursing home. As is my need, I was was there today like most days. Lunch was being served in the common room and the room was pretty full. The only person sitting who was not wheelchair-bound was me. At every table were struggles to control utensils and dishes; shaking hands splashed drinks. Bibs were required dress. It was every bit as sad and depressing as it sounds. But as I looked I noticed nearly every person in the room was reaching for the ice cream that came with the meal.

They were eating dessert first.

Just like that, the room was transformed. Instead of tragic, sad old folks struggling to feed themselves, I saw people who have traveled so far over the horizon that names no longer matter, nor history, background, race or religion. All that matters is that they manage to sail just a little bit farther. For some of them, lifting a cup is as physically challenging as getting on deck to reef the main in a sudden blow. For others, walking down a hall is as fraught with danger as climbing a mast in a rolling sea. These may be frail bodies barley holding onto fragile minds, but somewhere at the helm is a will of steel, a courage so deep as to be unfathomable.

Some have gotten so far away that the lines of communication are stretched to the breaking point. They can't tell us of the monsters they face or the demons that haunt their travels. We have no idea how hard it is for them to keep going. Sometimes our courage is no match for theirs, and we fail them by discounting the scale of their journey.  

But not all. As I watched some more, I noticed the aids working the room. They knew each patron by name, were unconcerned with spills and stains and shaking hands. Touch was their common language, and smiles, small encouragements and gentle voices spoken loudly. Nursing homes and nursing home workers are often the monsters of our urban tales. But not here, and not in the places I have visited looking for a home for my parents. Sure the monsters lurk, but they are the exception and not the rule. There are Helen and Michael and scores of others who stand their watch without complaint, people who carry part of the burden for those who have traveled so deeply into the night, who see them safely to their final port of call.

Today I had lunch with some of them.  And though they will never know it, they served up just enough magic to help me along as well.


Rharriscpa said...

Wonderful post. You write so well and tell the story perfectly. Thank you. And yes it is a very scary place in our minds.

Unknown said...

Tim ... you made me cry. what a beautiful post and so well written.
Temted to share it on my facebook page ( with your credits obviuosly )
this is publitzer price worthy.
We all hope that you will be with the sailing part of your family soon again .
Thanks Thor

TJ said...

Thank you both for the kind words. Thor, you are free to share it as you like. Maybe it will help someone feel a little better about their situation. I needed a little help that day myself, and that's where the words came from.

Anonymous said...

Tim & Deb, I am a "lurker" who loves to read yours and others' blogs about cruising. My husband & I sail ... but also have a home so I live vicariously as a full-time liveaboard through people like you! your last two posts "Understanding" and "Life is Short" are magnificent!! I cried. My husband cried! Then we both agreed they were "spot on"! Thank you! Bill & Rene s/v Southern Skies

Deb said...

Welcome to The Retirement Project Bill & Rene. Thank you for your kind words!

Unknown said...

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