Sunday, May 15, 2016

Just Passin' Through

Boats leak. A lot. So it was no surprise that a new drop of water slowly streamed its way down the teak siding beneath our headliner, and the irony of its resemblance to a tear was not lost on me. Boat leaks take a lot of work to fix. I sighed deeply.

The leak remained unchecked for some time. We were working our way down the East coast of Florida after having visited with five of our nine grandchildren, on our way to the West coast of Florida where we had arranged to work over the upcoming eight months to replenish our cruising funds. There simply was no time to stop and find the leak, and the summer would provide time in abundance to do so.

Having already tackled some more pressing issues after our arrival, the leak presented itself to the top of the list. It was, of course, part of a multi-project as all boat projects are multi-projects, cause and effect being intertwined in multiple systems in such a small space. The rebedding of the ports project required the removal of the trim around them, which meant the headliner panels were only six screws from being down. It was time.

Kintala is a Tartan 42, known for its soft decks and core damage. Our particular Tartan 42 had the deck core replaced a few years before we bought the boat, a job that was done from the inside of the cabin. We were in possession of photos of the job, one I was happy we had not been required to participate in. As I removed the first panel, I was pleased to see that all the trim pieces and furring strips were well marked, a sign of a professional job. But as I removed the second panel, there staring me in the face was someone's rest-stop-restroom-level declaration of abiding love. It had been scrawled in permanent marker on the new fiberglass, and overlaid with a fresh sheet of glass mat to lend it some permanency.

Scraping old silicone sealant off gives you a lot of time to think. I wondered about the person who wrote the words. Did she still love Ritchie? Was it ever love at all? Did he care for her and respect and support her the way my husband does? Did he bring her smiles or is the scar of their relationship as permanent as this whimsical scrawl? Was it heartfelt, or a pre-Facebook careless need to indulge impulse?

Written communication is a voyage. Through it our thoughts, feelings, and questions travel from the nebulous jumble of impressions in our mind to concrete permanence. Used to be, once upon a time, that communication was labored over. A letter would be carefully crafted and often modified many times before the exact nuance of thought had been captured, a signature artfully assigned, and the stamp affixed. Its receipt would be considered a gift. The command of the English language was broad and deep, and communication an art form of itself. With the increase in the pace of life and the introduction of electronics, communication became – of necessity – fast and easy. Too easy. The letter labored over with love went the way of eight tracks. Impulsive blurting of feelings and impressions became commonplace. Complex thought was delegated to road-weary motivational posters. Subtle humor morphed into crudity.

A disclaimer: I don't yearn for days gone by. I'm a techno-geek and love all things electronic and computer. Without Skype and Facebook to see grandkids, cruising would be much less likely to succeed. But recently I've seen a disturbing trend among my compatriots. The ease of communication through emails, texts, and social media has been around long enough now that it has brought with it a fundamental change – not just in the form and substance of our communication, but in the way we think.

While processing news in short clips without in-depth analysis of the issues is its own whole topic of another discussion, processing relationships the same way is devastating. The overwhelming amount of information and the speed at which it is delivered, leaves us dashing off snippets of communication bereft of body language, voice tone, and eye expression. Carelessly hitting the Send button without reviewing the material in the framework of the person receiving has left many hurting, angry, or confused. The anonymity of internet forums and social media groups lends its own wild West aura to communication, unleashing trolls into the melee with no reliable way to sift their content from our friends'. And while the communication seems fleeting, it's frighteningly permanent, sitting in the cloud archives for eternity to haunt. Writing used to be a legacy to leave behind, a way of lending credence to our short time here. Looking at some of the things in my Facebook feed, I wonder exactly what kind of legacy we're leaving.

Whether you're a cruiser or not, we're all just passing through and time is short. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I've been blessed that the cruising lifestyle has given me the opportunity to do both. Being far away from those I love, and sharing our adventures with others who wander, I've come to realize that the ability to communicate is both a treasure and a responsibility. The treasure is to be cherished, a means of fulfilling that very basic human need to connect with another; the responsibility lies in measuring its impact. Before it becomes your legacy.

The leak is fixed, the new headliner panels are up, and with it Ritchie's story has leapt from boat maintenance obscurity to the dubious social recognition of the World Wide Web. Besides getting a shiny, clean, new headliner, I also got a reinforced foundation for my thinking. Not a bad return from one little leak.

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