You need wind in your sail and the boat will move forward.
When was the last time you took up an unfamiliar sport or hobby?
As adults, we tend to stick with what we are good at.
It’s fun to learn something new as long as we don’t have to make a fool of ourselves.
Or risk failure.
I can’t draw a straight line. I have two left feet. I flunked gym. I’m bad with technology. I’m afraid of heights. I can’t carry a tune.I’m not creative.
My quest to say “Yes” in 2022includes trying things outside my comfort level and experience.
I’ve had years of ballet training, so trying new forms of dance, while at first challenging, is still fun and familiar. Chance of failure pretty low. Fear factor-zero.
I knew I needed to stretch myself if I was to conquer fears.
It was time to raise the bar.
This summer I signed up for sailing lessons.
Before you say, Oh, how fun!, please know it was not on my top list of activities. In fact, applying to be a civilian passenger on a spacecraft ranked higher. (I did apply but that is another story.)
Prior to signing up, the only sailboat I’d been on was a 70 ft. catamaran in Key West. Now that was fun.
I got to relax, enjoy a margarita and good company, while a master skipper took to the giant sails. With a calm sea, perfect weather, and a spectacular sunset…What’s not to like?
My summer sailing lessons were offered through a yacht club on our town lake. The legendary sailing coach, Bob G. has been sailing, racing, and teaching for 50 years!
At age 80, Bob still possesses incredible strength and stamina. I watched in awe as he jumped in and out of the boats, helping the students rig their sails.
These sail boats are not huge. You sit low and close to the water. There’s no motor. You can’t quickly change direction or speed. There’s a feeling of vulnerability, at least for me, being out in one.
And I had no idea there was so much involved in the sport.
Putting on the rudder. Bailing the water. Lowering the boom. Rigging the main sail and the gib sail. Securing the ropes.
And that’s all before you leave the dock!
Upon returning to the dock or mooring, you have to do everything again in reverse.
Then there is the sailing vocabulary to learn: tacking, gibing, luffing, beam reach, in irons, centerline, starboard, port, leeward, fairlead, and clew.
My sense of direction has never been great, so learning the essential Points of Sail proved challenging, as well.
I can still do a double pirouette but cannot tie a proper knot for the life of me. Can you, dear reader, tie a quick Bowline knot?
At home I practiced tying with the help of YouTube tutorials. By the next sailing class, though, I’d forgotten the procedure.
This sense of defeat made me sympathetic to what my adult ballet students must have felt when I demonstrated the sequence of a seemingly simple dance combination. Why couldn’t they get it? I’d thought at the time.
It didn’t take Captain Bob long to pick up on my anxiety.
Instead of letting me sail with my requested partner our first time out, Bob assigned me to his boat, along with Mary, another sailing novice.
Bob was patient but firm, giving clear directions and expecting us to follow suit.
Never mind the information overload. At least I felt safe in Bob’s boat. He could read the wind and water like I analyze a poem.
Next lesson, though, we were on our own. Bob would monitor us, and the other class members, from his motor boat.
There were moments of panic in the middle of the lake when I was doing everything wrong, my partner’s commands coming too fast for me to process.
At times, I feared the boat would capsize. (Did I mention I don’t like swimming in lakes?)
Upon seeing the distress signal, Bob did not heed my request to return to the dock.
Instead, he sent his teenage assistant over in a rowboat.
The agile boy climbed in our sailboat. “What’s troubling you?” he said, sounding more like a therapist-in-training.
The boy assured me that we wouldn’t capsize. Or crash into the oncoming boats.
Though he admitted it could feel that way.
“Just do this to balance the boat,” he demonstrated, sitting atop the side and leaning far backwards.
Ah, sure. Thanks.
Next class, just before sunset, the lake remained still. I began to relax and enjoy the scenery from a new vantage point.
I felt as if I’d stepped into a Monet painting.
Bob rowed over to my boat, his arm sweeping across the gorgeous sky.“See? This is what it’s all about!”
After each sail practice, Bob did a debriefing back on land, offering tips on wind currents, sailing maneuvers, and safety measures.
Once, after spending a half hour just rigging the boat, pushing away from the dock and setting sail, he called us back in because of a lightning threat.
After we gathered on shore, Bob reminded us of the old adage:
“You can’t control the weather, only the direction of your sails.“
That metaphor fit my life perfectly. What a great lesson for us all.
* * *
On the last day of class, Bob pronounced us graduated.“Summa cum laude!”
I think he was being generous with me. I’m no way ready to skipper a sailboat. For now, I’ve advanced from passive passenger to cautious crew.
Learning a new skill is good for our brain. Doing something we fear is good for our spirit.
One of the cardinal rules of fiction writing is: do not use coincidence to solve a a character’s problem.
When coincidence is used in this way, readers feel manipulated–(which writers do all the time. The point is for the reader not to notice.)
Used cleverly, however, coincidence in fiction can set off a chain of events and deepen the meaning of the story.
But what about in real life? Do coincidences have meaning?
The answer depends somewhat on your life outlook. Do you see the universe as a series of random events with no inherent connection? Do you seek scientific explanations for improbable events?
Or, do you believe some things are fated ? Maybe you subscribe to the notion that “everything happens for a reason”? Perhaps you see Divine intervention in some coincidences.
You run into your former lover in a city you both have never been ten years after your parting with no contact in between. Each of you say you were thinking of the other in the past month.
Psychologist Carl Jung called these kind of events “synchronicities”, surprising juxtapositions that scientific rationale can’t explain. The word synchronicity means “together in time” and suggests an underlying order to our reality. A connection between everyone and every living thing.
Jung saw synchronicities as a tool toward personal growth and meaning-making.
Just as we can derive meaning from reading a novel we know isn’t real, I think life’s coincidences can offer meaning, as well. Synchronicities evoke wonder and amazement. They remind us of life’s mystery.
The stranger or more improbable the coincidence, the greater our astonishment.
A common category of coincidences is finding an uncanny connection with a person you meet.
On a recent flight from Boston to Chicago, the woman sitting beside me, to whom I hadn’t said a word the whole flight, asked me if the American Airlines terminal was very busy.
“Oh, you’re not from Chicago?” I asked.
“No, just getting a connecting flight.”
I offered a few tips for navigating the O’Hare terminal. “Where are you headed?” I asked.
I smiled. “That’s where I grew up.”
What ensued was an enjoyable conversation with my seat mate.
We discovered that she and I had grown up in the same city just a mile apart. We’d both taken ice skating lessons at the same arena. We were both from large families and now had daughters the same age. We both had family still living in the area.
This in itself isn’t so incredible. What struck me is that the only reason we’d met is because I had taken the wrong seat.
The woman who was assigned 22F told me not to bother moving. She was fine with taking 22A across the aisle.
While I’m usually friendly and enjoy meeting new people, when on “airplane mode” I’m either white-knuckling through turbulence with music piping in my ears, or busy working on my laptop.
Add a mask to the above mix and you might call me an anti-social flyer.
Once inside the airport, Lauren and I each unmasked to reveal our smiles. Then we exchanged contact info.
And the lesson from this coincidence?
Talk to people! Some strangers turn out to be friends you’ve not yet met.
“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
– Nora Ephron
In the past month, I’ve been invited to three weddings. My Facebook feed is filled with announcements of engagements and wedding photos of beaming couples.
And they’re not all young.
2022 is turning out to be the Year of the Wedding. More couples are expected to getting hitched than since 1984. According to somereports, an estimated 2.5 million U.S. couples will marry in 2022. The pandemic is certainly a big factor behind the stats.
As a writer, I’m drawn to love stories. Fiction and fact. Big and small. I’m fascinated by beginningsand wonder in what ways a couple’s origin story might influence subsequent chapters.
I like to ask long-time married friends how they met their spouse. Do they remember their first kiss.? (Surprisingly, not everyone does!)
My mother still loves to retell the story of her starstruck blind date with my dad, and their first kiss on a carriage around Central Park.
There are the “I knew the moment I saw her” stories.
And the quieter stories of sparks that developed over time.
There are couples who didn’t seem to click at first and then, like defogging a mirror, a clearer vision appeared–a common plot of Hollywood rom-coms.
Then there are the stories of those who met much later in life, each person carrying long histories the other had no part of.
Novels I’ve enjoyed with such themes are Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson and Mr. Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
When you can’t take anymore depressing news headlines, I suggest turning to the weekly Vows section of the New York Times.
There you will find fascinating and diverse true love stories (beginnings only, of course) complete with photos, sure to bring a smile. Profiles of love after great loss, through illness, serendipity, and against all odds–as the saying goes.
Some of my favorites Vowsstories are of those who meet late in life-a testament that it’s never too late to find true love.
Folk singer Arlo Guthrie and Marti Ladd’s 20 year friendship culminated in a 2021 wedding.
Uplifting stories, uplift us. Stories of love and new beginnings inspire hope.
Author Joyce Maynard has published essays about her late-life love. After divorcing in her mid-thirties, she spent the next 24 years successful in her writing career but failing at relationships. About to give up after another dud date , she met Jim who became her husband and “true partner” at age 59. Sadly, Jim died of pancreatic cancer barely 3 years later. The experience inspired Joyce’s 2017 memoir, The Best of Us.
Finding love again after loss, whether from divorce or death, can seem insurmountable. Yet people do. Their broken heart opens, making space for a new beloved while still carrying the memory of the other. I’ve witnessed this beautiful and bittersweet transformation among friends and family members.
Dr. Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who has done extensive research and writing on the nature of love.
“Romantic love is primordial, adaptable, and eternal. It’s a basic brain system that, like a sleeping cat, can become awakened anytime in your life . Being in love beyond one’s mating years give you energy, well-being, motivation, and focus.”
What we think of as inevitable phases of love (sex drive, romance, deep attachment), Fisher thinks of as brain systems that can occur in any order. More surprisingly, she concludes that they do not have to disappear in longterm partnerships.
Fisher’s brain imaging studies show that some couples continue to experience all three phases well into their later years. Her studies in this area are intriguing.
“You can be in intensely in love at 22 as you can at 92.”
Helen Fisher, Ph.D
Interesting to note: Dr. Fisher got married for the first time at 75 (!) and she and her husband live in separate households in the same city. That tidbit definitely sparked my curiosity.
So, don’t give up if love is what you are still seeking.
It’s easy to become discouraged. But no matter how long it takes, it only takes One to begin a new story.
Do you remember Mr. Softie coming to your neighborhood?
Do you remember when summers felt endless?
As a child, summer days consisted of playing with friends, running through the sprinkler, and waiting for the ice cream truck–Mr. Softie.
So many choices!
I saved my allowance for the big ticket items: banana split served in a blue plastic boat. Second choice the rocket shipsicle. I remember creamsicles, candy necklaces, sundaes, pushups, and of course, the dipped soft serve cones.
Same driver each day. I thought his name was really Mr. Softie. When the familiar jingle floated through the air, the kids on the block swarmed to his truck always parked at my next door neighbor Lisa’s house.
What did summer mean to me back then?
Backyard pools. Flashlight tag. Bike-riding. Twirling my baton on the front lawn. Roller skating. Jump rope. Going to the playground. Kickball. Explore the nearby woods and creek.
Daydream. Read. Make up stories. Put on shows.
Boredom was not an affliction to be instantly remedied.
These endless days were punctuated with trips to my favorite amusement park, and other outings like the Detroit Zoo or a visit to my grandparents home on Lake Huron.
Some evenings, I’d attend my mother’s outdoor singing performances on Belle Isle.
My younger brothers and I lived in the moment of each unfolding hot day, oblivious of how many days had passed or were left before school started.
By the time I had my own children, summer vacation had become a time to keep kids busy: specialty camps, tutoring, organized sports, summer homework packets. Moms and Dads were out working. Our neighborhood was quieter during the week days.
Mr. Softie was replaced by a weekly visit (if lucky) from the Good Humor truck.
As a classroom teacher, I was fortunate to have the summer time to write and be with my kids. I tried to recreate some of the freedom and play that shaped my early years.
What I’m grateful for about the seasons of my childhood was how sheltered I was from the world’s woes. Sure I knew about bad stuff happening “out there”, but I still felt safe in my little corner of the map.
I never heard of a school shooting.
The blazing blue sky can’t coverup our collective grief.
But summer beckons and we move on, maybe a bit more slowly than the rest of the year.
The summers of adulthood are no longer endless. They begin with promise, then unfold rapidly until Back-to-School sales are upon us.
No matter how much I try to savor the long lush days, they pass all too quickly, each one more bittersweet.
My grown kids fondly remember their childhood summers, and how long they felt. That makes me happy.
Now I get to experience my grandchildren running freely in the sunshine…time standing still for a moment.
As a child, I never considered how many summers I had left to live.
Those three glorious months were always in-waiting, like a birthday, certain to arrive on time.