Tuesday, May 19, 2009

All Storms Pass

[this is the fourth in the series on water and the Great Lakes dedicated to the Water Walkers]

All Storms Pass

It’s a beautiful spring weekend in Ontario. My family – my wife, oldest son and his girlfriend and myself have come to Toronto for the family sail; a day when the teenagers who comprise the working crews of Toronto Brigantine take their families out for a sail on Lake Ontario. This is my youngest son’s passion and he has spent the past 4 years devoted to this boat that is the first serious love of his life, apparent when he refers to her as ‘she’, with a look in his eyes usually reserved for a ‘girlfriend’. He is a loyal and devoted young man, filled with a young man’s single-mindedness about the object of his love and passion. Her name is Playfair - a brigantine tall ship – a reproduction of days gone by. She is a rare beauty, especially when her sails are full out and she skims silently along the Great Lake’s blue waters with only the sound of wind and the snap of the sail to be heard.

The young, all teenage crew have spent the previous winter breaking her down, laboring hard over her, repairing, maintaining and doing all the work necessary to keep such a gem afloat. A winter of every weekend living on the unheated boat in the icy harbor, sewing sails, tarring shrouds, varnishing wood and other tedious time consuming labor is rewarded on this day with the first official sail of the new season. Soon they will be back out there doing the thing he loves the most: sailing the Great Lakes. The ‘Family Sail’ is the initiation of the season, where parents and families are taken out into the open waters of Lake Ontario with the young crew in command. They work as a well-oiled machine, listening for their next directives shouted out by those in command – the captain and the first mate. Having worked his way up from the bottom as a trainee four years before, my son has worked and earned his way to be second in command: the first mate. I’ve watched him grow through the years from young and green, to confident and seasoned. As we begin our family sailing venture out into the beautiful waters I watch him closely, proud of how he takes charge and leads by example, how he constantly is watching for a teachable moment to help one of his crewmates tighten their sailing skills and become even better sailors.

This is a culminating moment for us as a family. The previous two years had been spent navigating our own personal storm of crisis of Dad being laid out with life-threatening circumstances of stage IV cancer. Throughout the harsh winter of fighting death back, it was all the more important to maintain this island of sanity outside the turmoil at home for him. During that time I had two jobs only: to heal, and to get him to the train station an hour away so he could take the four hour journey to Toronto each weekend to be with his love. Both were proudly accomplished. I got stronger and so did he. There’s never a good age to face the mortality of one’s parent, but a teenage boy facing the loss of his father is one of the harder ones. Playfair saved him. She loved him strong and he loved her back, traversing the storm at home. Now, two years later, here we all are celebrating all of the hard work of the journey taken, the healing I’ve been able to find and the manhood he has found. I couldn’t be prouder, happier or more grateful.

Now he stands as the first mate of this fine sailing vessel, looking like an old salt; feet planted widely in a stance to keep balanced as he steers the ship with its large, spoked, wooden wheel, over the waters.

The wind carries the ship high, the bow reaching upwards as it heels its way forward. I stand with my cane in hand, grabbing anything that will help offer support with my other hand. I lean into the wind to keep from falling down.

Dark gray clouds that formed a bank across half the sky when we started out, now sit heavily upon us, completely overhead. The air is thick; the pressure pushes down heavily. Lightning and thunder begin to scatter across over the cold, now gray water, made grayer and colder by the blanket of cloud. Small boats, birds and people head to shore to take cover. But not us. These kids are tough. This is what they’re made for - to meet Nature and her forces on her terms.

The sails are full; the wind is high and full of life. Electricity floods the air; you can feel its crackle. The rain begins and we continue on unfazed. Then, the rain begins falling harder and everyone but the essential crew takes cover down below. I remain. I’m mesmerized, unable to remove myself from this moment, watching my son steering the wheel of the ship, over the waves, with the wind, with the powerful invisible forces he’s come to know well. He works confidently, carrying his precious cargo of families through the storm. It rains and blows harder; my face is pelted with hard spray flying at me horizontally. Quickly, I am drenched – my face, hair and clothes – thoroughly drenched, to the core, but what do I care? All I know, see and feel with every cell of my body and every corner of my soul is that I am alive. I am here to see this – to reap this reward of all the hard work. The hard journey is forgotten and all that remains is this:


Riding high on this sea, I am being steered through this storm by my young son and I am alive and strong – and so is he!

The thunder cracks. In the same split second, lightning bolts shoot to the water, slicing the air with electricity from the heavens. The sky opens, pouring out its contents. Again and again, lightning pierces the dark sky, the thunder cracking it open, encouraging the clouds to release more and more of their contents. Sheets of water are hurled down from above.

I am here to witness one more storm; to be as alive and electric as the storm itself; to feel the wetness fiercely blown, hitting my face. Huge drops crash harshly in the wind – there is no hiding from it. There is only immersion – being drenched by the holy waters; blessed straight from their Source above, straight from the sky and the providers of all that is good, holy, moist and ALIVE! I am drenched thoroughly - every inch of flesh - living, breathing flesh - nourished, watered, renewed and alive!

The exhilaration and ecstasy are so intense, lightning is no threat to my aliveness. There is no fear or worry that can find me. I am protected by the sheer vibrancy and power running though me. We have survived our own greater storm in our lives and there is nothing here on the water that can endanger me more.

I am in a very ecstatic state of mind and body when suddenly through my reverie I hear my son’s sobering, yet gentle reminder: “Don’t touch anything metal,” and reality quickly makes its appearance as I appreciate the danger of being on a boat on a Great Lake in a powerful thunderstorm. I do a quick inventory looking around cataloguing what is metal and what is not; what’s safe to touch – and what’s not. It doesn’t lessen my ecstasy any; it can’t. Instead, the danger heightens all the more the ecstasy of being alive – in this moment – ALIVE! - More than ever – ALIVE! The wind, water, waves, rain and danger all mix with this being alive in all its rawness – in all its spectacular Beauty. It is all that exists.

I smile. Down to the core of my being, I smile. Taking all of this in - reflecting on all we’ve been through, how far we’ve come, and what I’ve learned today from my young son the sailor. First, in a hard, ripping storm – to face right into the storm - lean into the wind; and if lightning is involved literally or metaphorically, don’t touch anything metal: don't flirt with disaster. But most importantly, remembering every moment of every day – to live full out, as if my life depended upon it. It very well might. And lastly, in the midst of all the storms in life to remember:

All storms pass.

>>>> <+> <<<<

for more info on Toronto Brigantine's Youth Sail Training Program: http://www.tallshipadventures.on.ca/


Anonymous said...

Nice. What an experience! And to watch your kid handle it: that is very special.

I feel like I was there.


Sandi said...

I realized about halfway through your piece that I was holding my breath. Bravo!

el poquito said...

Shark - wish we were there, together. this will be the first Memorial Day weekend in 4 yrs we're not out there captive to a bunch of teenagers - out in lake Ontario at their mercy. I think they enjoy that part of the folks being mostly incompetent to their super-capable. Wish we ALL were there - t'would be another good place to meet for the first time.

Thanks Sandi. Ok, deep breath now...
Ain't it great?! the being alive, the next generations coming up that we get to be here with to enjoy?

thanks for coming by guys,
el po