Safe harbour

7 Oct 2012

A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for. - Grace Murray Hopper

It is at this moment so late in life that I understand all of this sailing along the shoreline was practice. After all the checking of the sails and the ropes and my hands being calloused with understanding, I know that I was meant to chart my own course. I have left it so late now, that the shoreline is not only all I know, it is all I feel I am experienced enough to understand. I see land on one side, and the endless horizon of sky and sea on the other.

My hands are sweating on the wheel, I may be too late, but this cannot be all there is to this great expanse. There is a tiny thing inside me that this small territory could never be enough for. This cannot be all I can know, and I must know. I can't help but wonder if I had left long ago when I should have that I would have been back to the security of land by now. I hesitate, but the wind is right and it fills my sails.

I take a deep breath and turn my ship until the bow is aimed as straight as my compass needle towards the horizon. The land grows smaller behind me. I stand alone on the deck, my hands alone on the wheel. It is now that I remember I am terrified of the open ocean. I nearly turn the wheel back, but something inside me, something small, keeps my hands where they are on the wheel.

The first storm nearly destroys me. It drenches me to my bones. It tries to rip the wheel from my grasp, but I dig my nails into the wood. This ship is mine. I will not let it go rudderless into the inky black. I will hold her course or we will sink together. The sails are torn, the ropes are breaking, and waves are crashing against the hull. I am aching inside and out, aching with cold and fear and exhaustion. I have nothing left to give. I could let go of the wheel, but it is the only thing left in this terror that I can hold on to. My soul is heavy with regret. All of this would not have happened, had I just stayed where I was, safe against the shoreline. Should I turn back? I cannot, it is too late. Land has gone. For the first time I understand that is perfect. There are no rocks for me to be dashed against out here in the open water. There is only me, screaming in defiance at a boiling sea.

When the dawn comes it is with mist. It is with the wings of an albatross. It is with a still sea. I survey my ship. She is battered. The storm has left its mark all over her. I wonder how we can still be afloat after such an enormous and violent encounter, and with so much visible damage. Yet here she floats, albeit listing and low in the water. I wonder how I will repair her, but my hands are ahead of my mind. I have already, without deciding it, begun to patch the tears in the sail. So I set myself to the task at hand and it feels right. I imagine briefly what we would be if I had turned back, and laugh. I can no longer imagine this vessel, chained to a shoreline in contradiction of everything she was built for. How long will it take to rebuild her? I don’t care. Time doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m not imprisoned within the safe harbour. When will the next storm hit? I don’t care. Storms will come. They do not change what is right, and it is right that a ship be sailed. I am still terrified of this open ocean, with storms or without. Yet within the storm I have discovered that I have something greater than the depths of this dark water, a tiny thing that is still bigger than the most terrible storm, this little treasure within me that cannot be taken from me whether above the waves, or in the final sinking below.


It is small and it took a storm to find it, but is it there.

I run up the repaired sails. The ship is still battered, but I have decided that what we both need is sun. Once again I return to the wheel. I look for the albatross and turn the ship to catch the wind it is riding on. The wind is on my face and in my hair.

I'm still here. Charting my own course, no matter the squalls.

Thank you Julie, for inspiring me to finish this one.

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