On Making Our Way to a Destination When It’s Not Always Where We’d Planned

Apr 24 2015

My friend, Bethany, is a sailor.

Like a Spend-a-Year-Raising-Kids-on-a-Sailboat kind of sailor. 

Like a Navigate-From-Oregon-to-Mexico-and-Back kind of sailor. 

Like a Knows-What-a-Boom-Is and How-to-Build-a-Dinghy kind of sailor. 

A SAILOR sailor, you know?

Bethany and I were trying to find a restaurant tonight with Jen, Jenn and Heidi. 

I was in charge of navigating, which was, of course, a terrible mistake because I was going by memory which — HAHAHAI don’t have anymore

I got us to the neighborhood but not to our destination, and since the neighborhood wasn’t planning to honor our reservations, that was, technically speaking, a problem.

Bethany navigated us to our destination instead of me, solving problems on land the way she solves them at sea, which led us to a conversation about the ocean and listlessness and, you know, direction. So I mentioned, with all my knowledge of sailing, how nice it must be to be in a vast, wide, open space, choose a destination and then just go there. How freeing.  

“Well,” said Bethany, “sometimes you can choose a destination.” 

And I said, “Wait. Wait. What?”

Because this idea that you can sometimes choose a destination, of course, with my teeny, tiny control issues and anxiety issues and panic issues and the need for medication, terrified me. TERRIFIED me.

What?” I asked again. “What do you mean sometimes? I don’t like sometimes. SOMETIMES is no good for people like me who NEED TO GET SOMEWHERE. Who need to know we will, eventually, arrive. ‘Sometimes’ is not OK. I am very uncomfortable with sometimes.”

And when I stopped verbally panicking, Bethany said, “It’s like this. When you’re out there on the water, you can choose which direction you’re oriented. In general. You can choose where you hope to go. But this is the thing: you can’t sail directly into the wind. If you try, your sail catches nothing and you stay, stuck, where you are. So if the wind is coming from your destination, you can’t go there. You can argue with the wind as much as you want. You can yell and yell into the wind. But the wind doesn’t care. And even if the wind dies, you can’t always get through the remaining swell. 

“You know what I hate?” Bethany asked, “I hate that saying about sailing that goes ‘you can’t change the wind; you just adjust your sails’ because it’s bullshit. The reality is, when the wind changes, you can’t just go on doing what you wanted to do, no matter how badly you wanted to do it. I mean, sometimes, yes, your destination is a few degrees off the wind and you can work your way there. But sometimes? What you wanted is — truly — no longer an option.

“The weather forecast isn’t the same thing as the weather,” she went on. “Storms come up you didn’t anticipate and couldn’t foresee. Even if you drop your sails and use your engine to motor, you can’t always go straight to the destination. There are tides that run hot, and you have to gauge whether you have the fuel to get there working against the tide. Engines fail. Sometimes you have to head back. Sometimes you have to head to a safe harbor. “

Listen, friends; I don’t know about you, but I want to feel safe. I want to feel in control. I want rather desperately to always aim for a destination — in geography, in relationships, in my career, in life — but sometimes the wind blows. The wind blows and the tide comes up and storms we didn’t anticipate arrive out of no where. Just no where. So we change course. 

Here’s what I want us to hear tonight: it’s OK to find a safe harbor. It’s OK to head back. It’s OK when we don’t arrive at our planned destination — on time or at all. It’s OK to evaluate and change course. Friends, this is sailing and this is life. And it’s OK to be where we are on the water. 


P.S. Bethany blogs about sailing at Adventures in Lilo