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

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

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
10 comments
  1. Love the analogy. I used to feel like I had to be in control too & hated taking risks, but as a Christian I’ve learnt by experience that God LOVES to do things inside out & upside down & CRAZY and when we trust Him & go for it we have way more fun, much greater impact & are safer & happier than we otherwise would have been anyway! So now I resist fighting the wind & do my best to let it take me where it pleases, and everyone’s better off for it.

  2. […] night, I wrote about destinations and the unavoidable reality that we aren’t necessarily able to navigate to our destination […]

  3. This is really cool.

  4. A. Bad. Thing. Happened to me about 28 years ago.
    Before that, I could sail and not worry about where I was going or where I’d end up. I had friends who could come along or acquaintance who could join us, too.

    I could jump in the boat and just take off without concern. If there were sea monsters or the wind was blowing the wrong way or the waves were too high, well, I just changed directions and went somewhere else.

    But then the bad thing happened. And I became hyper-vigilant about controlling where I was going at all times. And who was sailing with me. All of those things have to be rigidly controlled or I don’t sail.

    Maybe I need a new boat.

    1. A Horrible Thing would certainly make it hard to start again, and hard to not be hyper vigilant about controlling all the things. Maybe a boat with, like, a lightning bolt down the side? That would be pretty bada$$.

    2. New boat, new boat, get a new boat!
      There is healing and freedom and hope and LIFE out there for you Ami. I don’t know where you’re at with God stuff (or Love as Beth likes to call Him), but He really can & does want to give you all this. I don’t want to push anything on you, but if you’d like more info I can give you some leads on some awesome opportunities for healing & life beyond the pain. Otherwise, I’m praying for you anyway & I’m sure others are also.

  5. Good good words. And then there are those of us on a path we never anticipated, but trusting that the God who makes the wind knows where He is blowing us. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for that today ♡

  7. Of course it’s okay to just go back to port.

    Looking back over my life, some of the best choices I ever made were part of giving up on something. Because sometimes, it turns out that the safe harbor you retreated to was really where you wanted to go all along.

    Life is funny like that.

    1. So well written,my friend. I am a planner. My family has many stories to tell about…”there always has to be a plan,” one of Bill’s laments. I am not really fearfull, in my book anyway, I’m just industrious and want to make the best use of my time and GET THE WORK DONE. Work first, then play. That’s my plan. Then, I fall off a stool and nearly ‘can’t get up’, so…the plan is tabled. (Which is about what happened to me too.) But, I love the analogy above about the safe harbor. God is so good to put those words in our thoughts so we don’t fight the realities of life. In fact, it was kind of a fun relief to rest for a week!

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