Billionaires are floating around in space while down here on Planet Earth the temperature hit 130 degrees in Death Valley the other day. The pandemic refuses to leave us alone and the political scene is as corrosive as ever. Should we think critically about race or not think at all? There are plenty of serious questions to ponder out there, but when you’re eight years old, it’s summer, and sailing school starts in the morning, maybe it’s ok to get a little giddy.
How I envy these two: grandson and grand niece to us, cousins to each other. For a week, they’re here visiting us while learning how to tie some sailors’ knots or how to rig their own boat. They’ll practice man-overboard drills and learn how to bail out a swamped boat. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll discover for themselves the ancient and magical alchemy that turns something as elusive as wind into practical forward motion.
When I was their age, I was a paddler, not a sailor. My vessel of choice was an old aluminum Grumman canoe, not a rigged Opti. I relied on strokes, not sheets. I dreamed of rivers and lakes, not bays and oceans. And, like these two, I was happy!
It’s sad, but true: we unlearn happiness. Silliness and joy give away to seriousness and purpose. It’s as though the more we learn, the heavier the burdens become. Year by year, the toll mounts and suddenly the full weight of our adult responsibilities sits on our shoulders like Merlin’s ravens, drowning out the laughter of children with their raucous cawing.
Maybe that’s too harsh. There are some people who manage to retain the glow and promise of youth even as they age. I should know; I’m married to one. Even though she’s now Kiki—her grandmother name—she still manages to impart a whole host of life lessons with a light touch; “Shake his hand; look him in the eye; introduce yourself.” I bet the kids probably don’t even realize they’re learning skills that will carry them into the grown-up world with something akin to social grace. They love her for all-the-more for that because she hasn’t forgotten how to make learning fun.
Maybe sailing school will be like that, too. Our young sailors will learn how to navigate choppy water; how to sail into a headwind; how to right their own ship when things really go south. And it will be fun. Maybe, if they’re really lucky and really good, they’ll even grow up with an appreciation for the power and beauty of things unseen, like the wind.
A few days ago, I made a new friend, an artful sailor who has spent many years on the water. “Why do you like to sail?” I asked him.
“Because it makes me slow down. Sailing isn’t about a timeline or about going from point A to point B in a straight line. You’ve got to figure out the wind and how to make it your friend.” That seemed to like pretty good advice to me and if the kids come away from sailing school with no other lesson than this, the experience will have been well worth the price.
In the meantime, they’re still eight, still silly, still full of giggles. There’s plenty of wind ahead.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com