Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Anniversary muse, muse ...

I started thinking about this "part two" as soon as was "An Unexpected Anniversary Muse" was published. That post was incubated in the aftermath of having gone into night waters as Deb mentioned. The person needing a little help falls into the category of young, poor, somewhat trapped, with few options and an uncertain future. On that night she chose to cope by drinking it all away. For just a few brief minutes that choice put her at a serious amount of risk. Though the risk to me was slight, and I was glad we were around to offer a hand, I wasn't expecting to go night swimming in a tidal river to pluck a person I had talked with exactly once, out of the waves. It kind of put the whole issue of people struggling to get along on the front burner as her situation is by no means unique or unusual "out here". But I knew there was another side to the story I would have to wrestle with, for this life is different than others and labels are slippery things when soaked in water.

Over the course of our summer here in southern FL we have made friends with more than a few in the same boat as our night swimmer. (Sorry.) Actually, they were spread out over four or five different boats. All of them are good people. All of them willing to help another in any way they could, yet all of them struggling to keep going themselves. They talk of how hard it is. They are tired and frustrated, not sure where or how some particular problem can get handled. They are often ill, some with chronic symptoms unresolved since health care is a real issue for much of the cruising community. I can't help but think of them as living poor, because they are. But I suspect they would shy away from that label. "Broke" might be their choice. "Hurting a bit" if you ask how they are doing. Most will admit to having to "fill the kitty" before they can go any further. (That means flat broke, by the way.) To me "poor" is an economic label, having nothing to do with the spirit. But maybe to others it means something else.

I never really expected this to be such a large part of the cruising community, and it may not be as large as it looks to me. For the obvious reason marinas and mooring fields have noticeably fewer struggling boats hanging around. It is the same in the Islands. Here, in America's anchorages, are where those hanging near the edge hang out the most. It is where Kintala hangs out as well and many struggling through each day are friends of mine now. Come out here and they will be friends of yours as well. At least they should be.

But then things get a bit more complicated. Most of the cruisers that we know (including ourselves) are people with very few belongings. We get tired and frustrated, and are sometimes not sure how some particular problem can get handled. We have no permanent address, live off the power grid, dwell the fringe of normal society, mobile and uncommitted with, it must be admitted, our own collection of eccentricities. There is very little difference between the way my poor friends live, and the way we live.

But we are of the Kings and Queens in the world. There is no desire for belongings or a permanent address. We don't need the power grid and are committed to living light and free. We wander at will through whatever part of the world we fancy. As for eccentricities, we revel in them. We are not really like “normal” people, and that is more than fine. And my friends, those whom I think of as living poor, who have described themselves as just "hurting a bit", would say the exact same thing. They would like to not be "hurting a bit". But if that doesn't happened they are still of the Kings and Queens in the world. They are still cruisers. And they are still friends.

Not hurting as much might mean trading up to a slightly nicer boat, maybe new solar panels, a water maker, some new rigging, an additional sail. They might get an engine fixed or a refrigerator running, maybe add a bit of new navigation gear. Or maybe not. Mostly they would not be worried that any given day might be the day that they lose their grip and fall into the abyss. Smiling would come a bit easier with problems a lot less daunting. And that, to me, is the difference between poor and not poor. It is the difference between being able to move and move safely, or not being able to move at all. It is the difference between worrying about how to keep the boat functional, and just keeping the boat going as a matter of routine. Is is the difference between feeling threatened, and feeling capable.

So I'll let my previous post stand as is. There are a lot of struggling people “out here”, and they are very, very exposed. Being that exposed is a tough way to live. They know it. They live with it. They would rather they didn't have to, but they take a fierce pride in managing it as well. If one comes this way and finds themselves "hurting a bit", but lacks that fierce pride? The edge is going to be very hard to hold onto.

Veterans and young people do seem to have an especially difficult time keeping ahead of the poverty curve. Should they venture this way they need to be especially careful to be prepared. But, at the same time, the standards are different for those "out here" than for those living as land dwellers. "Poor” means a different thing to people who care mostly about what they can do, where they can go, and what they can experience. And care little about the things they might own.

If one is lucky enough to come this way without much of a struggle, be pleased. It takes a lot of work, a lot of planning, and a bit of luck, to pull that one off. Anyone who has done it can take their own bit of pride in choosing a different way. The beaches, sundowners, clear waters, and warm temperatures are well and truly earned. It is a good life.

But it doesn't always work out that way.

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