Monday, December 29, 2008

When restlessness seeps in...

Here, resting on a sand bar in the part of Shaw Island known as Squaw Bay, sits a decrepit old boat whose name declares her to be The Bedouin.

She is indeed a wanderer: she was a British boat, built in the 60's if memory serves, and had a lot of ocean sailing under her twin keels when we bought her in 1987 with the proceeds from an unexpected inheritance.

We kept her on Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont for a year or so, and then trailered her out to Seattle when we moved out here in 1988, sleeping in her along the way to save hotel bills, then installed her at a somewhat disreputable marina on Seattle's Duwamish River.

After moving out west, we had a few exciting adventures with her, ending in a rather spectacular engine failure that resulted in an attempt to sail through the Ballard Locks and under the 520 bridge. But by then both of us were working and raising kids and it soon became clear that we had neither the time nor the energy to maintain or sail her, and eventually we sold her to a friend on Shaw for a dollar.

My guess is she had a few more adventures before she finally came home to roost in Squaw Bay, where she now sits, balanced slightly tipsily on those same two ocean-loving keels that once kept her steady in the storms, and adds her own unique charm to the view. I suspect, though I can't know for sure, that her fate will parallel that of other similar elderly boats that dot the shoreline around the island: she's in for the long haul, decorating the landscape until old age or fierce storms carry her away.

Like the Bedouin, most of us have weathered lots of seas and storms before we go into that final settling down. And far from offending, the scars of all those travels give us character, evoking memories of a life well lived and a purpose served. But those of us who are built to sail will inevitably find the transition to the more sedentary role a challenge. How gracefully do we negotiate that passage from functional to symbolic, from torchbearer to beacon, from sailor to old salt?

And writing this now, in the season of Christmas, I can't help thinking of Irving Berlin's classic White Christmas, which we watched again as a family on Christmas Eve. There are always teary moments, but this year they came in two places: first with the words of a song:

"What do you do with a general
when he stops being a general,
Oh, what do you do with a general who retires?"

and then, as always, at the moment when the general marches down the stairs of the inn. Everyone stands and salutes, and he plays his old role, marching down the ranks and chewing them out; then stops, turns, and says with tears in his eyes that they are the most beautiful sight he has ever seen.

Perhaps this is the root of that post-Christmas malaise: it's all tangled up with the fact that another year is over and a new one is about to begin, and will bring with it changes, shifts, losses, gains, and inevitably new roles to play. We sit, waiting tipsily on the cusp of the year, hoping to draw on and realize old skills while knowing new things will be required of us as we learn to cope with whatever is to come.

No wonder restlessness seeps in...

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