Once our Thanksgiving Cards Against Humanity game came to a close, there were hugs all around and we bid Steve and Linda adieu. They are flying home to Australia to celebrate Christmas and New Years with their family, and join one of their daughters for the “Big Boy or Girl Baby Reveal.” They pop over one more time to gift us the full contents of their leftover food from their refrigerator, and then they are off to be spirited away by one of those speedy metal birds. We will be sailing on to Thailand. We expect they may catch up with us later in 2019, but as sailing goes - they may not. This has me contemplating how I experience friendship and family in the context of so many hellos and goodbyes.
Despite living practically nowhere, we have neighbors. We borrow an egg or a cup of sugar, lend a tool, stop by each other’s place on our way somewhere else just to chat. We’ve sat on the “front porch” with a lemonade (or more likely a Gin and Tonic) at a rate that must be a hundred times to each one we experienced living in a conventional neighborhood. We chat about “home repair” and trade skillsets with each other often. I’ve watched Andrew spend hours mulling over the battery system of a fellow sailor, puzzling over the best way to rejigger one wire from here to there. It takes me back to my Grandparents’ neighborhood where my Grandfather would blow the snow from his neighbor’s driveways in the wee hours of the morning, unless of course another neighbor got to his first.
We barely knew Steve and Linda, yet found ourselves cruising around Langkawi with them in a similar fashion as we might go on a road trip with a couple of friends we’ve known most our life. We celebrated cultural events (the Melbourne Cup), a baptism (of sorts), a birthday (of sorts), and a traditional American Thanksgiving. These are the types of things we typically do on land with close family or friends. Cruising friends quickly feel like close friends for the short time we are together — and then, they are gone again. We have a list of people and boats dear to our hearts both on land and at sea we’ve left in our wake. So many “catch you laters” under our belt now.
People ask me if I think this trip is “worth it”. Is it worth the professional and financial sacrifices, worth being away from family, selling my home, changing everything I know? I won’t know the answer to this question until we reach home and see where our lives go next, but one of the things I list in the category of “likely worth it” is the way this voyage has changed my view on human connection.
What did I used to think?
I used to think in order to call someone friend or family, you must keep them close, speak often, and grasp onto a certain frequency of interaction. Otherwise, these people never meant much to you in the first place, right? This viewpoint has many negative results. I feel rejected or betrayed when someone does not invest in me the way I try to invest in them. This viewpoint imposed an unnecessary fear about this voyage: if I leave, all the connections I’ve built in my life will dissipate. I will be forgotten. I will be gone from the world I knew. As we are away a second set of holidays in a row, I feel this fear more acutely than usual.
But, this trip transformed my view. A ship at sea has a strange way of digging at the roots of your soul and loosening the hard packed soil of your foundation. It feels uncomfortable sometimes, but once the soil is loose, your roots have the space to widen their reach. On almost every night passage I’ve taken, I dream strange dreams that bring unlikely sounds or imagery to me - people I haven’t spent time with since the 80s, random statements made by teachers in high school or even Kindergarten, friends I haven’t spoken with for a long time, a family member who has long since passed on, but who taught me my first magic trick with a deck of cards. Sometimes these dreams bring helpful messages like “reef early, reef often!” Other times, they are fleeting images that seem to have no connection to anything at all. I wake up and think “Why in the hell did I just dream about the girl I deemed my best friend in Kindergarten, but I have not seen or spoken to, since?” But she sticks with me through my morning watch and I wonder where she is and what she is doing. I realize, now, that any person who mattered to me at any point in time stays with me in ways of which I am not fully aware. Presumably, something of myself stays with them, too. Knowing this, it seems making connections with people and ideas thousands and thousands of miles away from my “tap root” must bring a wider variety of nutrients to my life.
And, so, as Steve and Linda leave, I tuck their friendship and our experiences together into my heart of warm memories where all my friends travel with me. They are in great company. If you read this blog, it is highly likely you inhabit this space, too. And for that, I am grateful.