Sailing, as we all do, alone, and some of us more alone than we might like, I oftentimes find another sailing beside me at the most unexpected moments. Now, as a sailor’s wife I know this unexpectation to be impossible. In that vast expanse of flat ocean, even one in a grumpy or ferocious mood, I can always see someone coming, and from far off. However, in a grounded life, I don’t always see someone coming. I might be distracted, sweeping the floor, or suddenly in the wide mouthed conservatory, like a goldfish in a bowl. Someone might come walking by, someone who pauses to communicate affection and support from their friend ship. They move by in silence, the window glass between us, the Covid restrictions refusing a close encounter. Even as they pass me by, the feeling that they and I confabulate leaves me feeling like I just took something in something warming like porage or soup. More, it elevates my steps thereafter. I feel seen, acknowledged, noticed, of value. This friend in his or her ship may well move faster than I through the ocean, but it matters not, for this encounter has told me I can keep going, regardless of my slow pace. I may have a smaller ship, less crew, less rations, less focus on the whereabouts of my destination. They seemed to be certain of theirs, after all, or it appeared so. But they paused in their trajectory, just for me.
I notice that before this time, this time of isolation and the lack of our ships meeting as we did so gaily and with no thought of it ever being stolen from us, I took it all for granted. I might even have waved it away. Another day for this for I am busy with my own piddling thingamajigs and have no time for this friend or that. Let them WhatsApp me first, or call at the very least to ascertain my availability. Funny how all that has dissipated now in this lockdown fog. Funny, again, how much I have learned to value any contact. I may not instantly respond, but that ship that just passed me by with a friendly wave will not be as it might have seemed to them. I did not disallow, not did it mean nothing much to me. It meant very much.
It thinks me. Do I honour those friend ships that bother to slow and to communicate? I caught them as fish in my net in the abundance of my past life, whence I might think that life would always supply me with a big haul. I could afford to throw some back as unwanted bycatch because I never considered that I would ever be standing alone on a ship, the helmswoman, crew-less and traversing an ocean that seems to go on for ever. It also learns me. I may be alone on my slow ship in the midst of storms and slack-water, in the doldrums or riding on skyscraper waves but I am not alone. There are other ships out here, even if I cannot see them. Ships will gravitate towards each other in the ‘way out there’ of sailing. I know this. I have encountered this. Even if we are all sailing alone, we care for each other in the wild spaces, in the ride and crash of darkling skyscraper waves and it teaches me.
My analogy comes to ground, and still as a teacher. My loyal friends who still walk by, who still text, email and message, who still call, despite my carelessness, who communicate in silence through the window, I salute you all. I value your persistence and loyalty, the ocean depth of your always finding me no matter what I do or say or what I don’t do and don’t say as I hold this wheel and fight the ocean traverse.
Thank you for being my friend.