Tall ships and tall tales
It is an ongoing joke within my family that, if not for the questionable food, lack of sleep, inadequate bathroom facilities and exposure to the elements, I would quite enjoy the experience of 'Survivor' or the 'Amazing Race.'
Alas, I discovered my preference for the 'better things in life' the summer of my 13th year.
Two of my best friends and I decided to partake in an adventure of sorts on the 'high seas' of Lake Ontario.
We were to embark on our 'voyage' via the St. Lawrence II tall ship.
This was no ordinary boat and this was no three-hour tour!
The St. Lawrence II was a full-fledged working ship...made of wood and masts and ropes and sails.
Our adventure would last TWO WEEKSand promised an abundance of nautical experience...since the manning of the ship would be undertaken by its new occupants: boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18.
Our captain wasapparently 21 years old and rumored to have a penchant for perusing Playboy magazines below decks, which accounted for his near mythical status.
Upon reflection, I have to ask...
What the heck were we thinking?
What the heck were my parents thinking?
Ah, well...things were different back then; seatbelts were optional, second hand smoke expected and rolling a ball of mercury in the palm of your hand...well, that was just pretty darn cool.
As I stood on the ship's deck in my thin blue wind breaker, amongst what seemed like a sea of other similarly clad kids, I realized the enormity of my undertaking and swallowed...hard.
All of these strange new faces were to be my 'family' for the next two weeks. I was reassured by the presence of my two best friends, as I knew we would have fun...no matter what.
The 'older' leaders of the ship were quick to give us our marching orders:
Our job, beginning immediately, was to operate the ship in every possible way...including 'watch' shifts of four hours each throughout the night.
I felt a sudden surge of sympathy for the two girls whose parents had told them they were going on a 'cruise.'
This was no Love Boat. This was the real deal.
And while all of these new responsibilities were sobering...it was the next announcement that left me floundering.
We were to be sorted into permanent groups that would last the duration of the voyage and were to exclude any and all friends!
"Uh...what was that????"
"No No No NO NO".... my mind screamed.
Internally, I began a dialogue with these so-called ship leaders/traitors:
"Fine...I accept that I am in unchartered waters, so to speak...I can deal with that. I can adapt. I can BE water and go with the flow. But don't take away my friends. They are my life boat."
Was it too soon to mutiny?
I now considered the St. Lawrence II, my very own Black Pearl - a hellish vessel of doom...minus the pirates...but just barely!!!
there was nothing to be done for it. I said good-bye to my friends, put on a brave face and shuffled over to my new 'family.'
For the next two weeks I learned how to tie the ropes, climb the mast, hoist the jib, clean the galley, secure a knot, read a compass, use the head, scrub the deck, steer the boat, chart a course, polish the brass, pull in the sails and sleep in four hour shifts.
I was exhausted, uncomfortable, unsettled, lonely and hungry for good food, a warm bed, a decent bathroom (that wasn't situated in the middle of the boys' quarters) and protection from the sun, wind and rain.
In short, I was pretty miserable physically, emotionally and mentally and couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what I was to learn from this experience other than the obvious.
And yet...all of these years later, this memory has stayed with me - imploring me to learn more from it.
In recalling these images and associated feelings, I recently discovered a hidden treasure buried so deep, it's not surprising that I missed it.
My first clue came in acknowledging that, while I made the best of things at the time,
I was lonely.
I was scared.
I was unhappy.
I was exhausted.
And herein lies the treasure...for even though I felt all of those things...
the very feelings that most of us avoid at all cost...
I survived them.
And there is freedom in that.
There is freedom in knowing that...
I can do lonely.
I can do scared.
I can do sad.
I can do exhausted.
I can do all of those things and I will endure.
It's funny. These feelings we are so afraid to feel...
how often have we ALREADY felt them...
come out the other side whole...if not a little stronger?
THAT was my treasure.
Alas, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge one final realization...
I can't do no toilets...;))
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* Dedicated to Kate and Holly, my fellow sailors.