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Observations: Silver linings

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image The ocean is a great place for some much needed self-contemplation, especially on an overnight passage while all alone.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Bad things happen to good people, yada, yada, yada. That is likely true, but who am I to judge if I’m a “good people” or not? That is a highly relative judgment, after all. Do evil dictators know they are evil? I’m thinking not, just like the insane person that cuts you off in traffic on a bad day doesn’t think they are evil.

Regardless, over the past few weeks, I’ve more than once wondered if the lightning strike that hit my boat (and me, somewhat indirectly), didn’t really kill me and thus has landed me in hell. The past few weeks have been pretty rough but I know full well that I have nothing to complain about.

Plus, there has been a big silver lining contained in the millions of volts that shot down from the sky to connect with the mast of my boat. It has gotten me back to the water again — something I’d inexplicably faded away from. In getting back to the water, I’m trying to find my own personal mission again.

For Michelle and me, the best years of our lives were spent living aboard our sailboat in a rundown little marina in Ruskin. It was a magical time — just after we arrived, other people our age began showing up with similar dreams and we made the best friends of our lives. A lot has changed since then, the little rundown marina no longer is either of those things and some of the people have gone on to different things, some in life and some in death, but the friends — the really good friends — have remained.

Before we left to go sailing, my mission was to prepare the boat and understand every single detail of every single system on it. That was easy enough since I installed it all. All of our money went towards the stuff we needed and to what is called the “cruising kitty” — funds used while sailing since working in a place like the Bahamas or the Dominican Republic was not only unlikely, it was also generally illegal.

When we were sailing, my mission was to keep the systems on the boat running and to continuously monitor the weather. It was a good mission for me, one that I loved. When you are out on the ocean in a little boat, weather is huge. Out of sight of land, out in the Atlantic, you are on your own.  When things go bad, as friend and cruising singer Eileen Quinn once sang, “There ain’t no getting off this ride.” There are few things as terrifying as an angry ocean on a dark night, except, as I found, the darkness can be a blessing when you can’t see how big the waves truly can be. In such times, however, you just find yourself praying to simply get through the night.

Of course those times are relatively rare, which is why weather planning is so vital. But sometimes nature just does its own thing, leaving you as nothing more than a small speck on a big and tumultuous ocean.  But most nights at sea, for me, at least, aren’t spent in fear so much as in contemplation. A storm can certainly bring out your true character but during the few occasions we’ve experienced that, I had more to worry about than myself — I needed to do everything I could to keep my wife and the boat safe. She probably thought the same way.

I’ve spent one night at sea by myself, sailing from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Cape May. I didn’t have storms or sea monsters but fluky winds sent me much further offshore than planned, leaving me effectively on my own despite the millions of people living along the coast miles to my west. Perhaps the only scary part of that night was the self-contemplation that opened up inside of me like the billions of stars I could see overhead. Sometimes spending time with yourself isn’t the easiest thing to do.  Am I a good person? Am I on the right track in life? Have I wasted my life? How can I stop being a jerk sometimes (or more than sometimes, depending upon your perspective)? What do I need to do to be a decent, better human?

And then the sun rises and the questions, along with many of the answers fade away with the approaching coastline, bringing back normal life with all of the distractions and frustrations that kept many of the answers I may have discovered at bay.

The bad thing about time is that you can never turn it back. I can’t go back to those magical days living in a marina that no longer exists seeing the same friends, some of whom are no longer even alive. I can’t go back to that night on the Atlantic where the answers to my questions came to me, sometimes uncomfortably so. But I can change what I’m doing right now. My wife and I can go back to the life that made us happiest. We can go back to the living on the water, kicking our feet under the blankets when we crawl in each night in the sheer joy of our lives. No, it won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean it will be worse, either. It could be as good; it could be better. Lightning struck once for us, letting us live our dream. It could strike again — different but maybe even better.

And perhaps in the process I’ll find out what I need to do to become a better person. To me, that is overdue. All of us have a course to follow in life but it is a choice. For some, it is easier to ignore it, for others it is simply their nature and thoughts of choice are moot. I’ve been off course for so long; it’s time to turn. I’ll see you out there.

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