Friday, January 11, 2008
Never Look Back
The sun struggles over the horizon, the rise and fall of the waves causes a brilliant reflection to dance across the bridge of my nose. Spectacular sunrises no longer intrigue me as they once had, and neither the magnificent sunsets. The sun slowly appearing to be swallowed by the other side of the ocean, once fascinated me, but each of these events now only represents a new-found hellish extreme.
Day seven finds me barely capable of fending off thoughts that continue to accost my weakening mind. What a welcome relief death would bring, if nothing more than a foreseeable end to the constant torment that plagues me. Trapped in a world where the only reward of surviving seems to be the punishment of another day. My mind travels back merely a week earlier in time, when things were not so bleak.
My relationship with John, my childhood friend, had faded over the years. Miles did not separate us; his home and mine were no more than twenty minutes apart. Our parting of ways seemed to deal more with social standing rather than proximity. Prompted by my wife’s passing, my work felt like the only place that provided an escape from the lonely existence called the rest of my life. The multitude of extra hours quickly moved me up the corporate ladder; with blinding speed my work had afforded me a very nice home in a subdivision. John had apparently been unable to see the enlightenment of ‘applying’ himself. The generosity of his parents allowed him to continue living with them; otherwise his minimum wage job would allow little chance for survival. John had always been a follower, even when we were boys. Although at that time nothing qualified me as a leader, but John tagged along anyhow, almost like a little brother.
After nearly twenty years of non-communication, John began to call my home. Explaining he had recently acquired a fabulous old sail boat, but she needed a ‘little work’. Truthfully little time existed for such things as a fixer-upper boat in my busy life. Every Saturday my voice-mail box reached capacity. Finally he broke me, as he began to recount childhood memories; when we were young boys and still the best of friends. His words brought back memories of how we worked for weeks, constructing the ultimate tree-house. I had to admit that those years of carefree living certainly did seem appealing now. After several Saturdays something stirred inside me, perhaps the loneliness in his voice spoke to me in a familiar way, but something deep down in my gut prompted me to go.
Much of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the seaworthy craft were my own. Surprisingly we had a good time as we knocked the top off of a few beers and simply got reacquainted. For months we toiled together on this project, but as we waxed the last plank on the newly installed desk we realized we hadn’t given her a name. All seagoing vessels must have a name. During the re-living of days of yore, John had reminded me of a phrase I used during high school, most particularly when attempting to override his good judgment. So we settled on the name ‘Never Look Back’.
We set sail that morning on her maiden voyage, leaving the tranquil marina behind, intending on spending the afternoon enjoying the fruits of our labor. The weather forecast concerned us little, since neither of us were sailors. The beer flowed freely and the sun-gods smiled brightly with great intensity. We were two teenage boys again, without a care in the world and truthfully it felt good.
For several hours our boat sliced the placid aquamarine glass. Small momentary disturbances swirled behind the rudder, but left little evidence of our trail as we moved further out to sea. Smooth seas ahead it would seem, until with little warning the thunderheads began to form. Only then did we bother to notice not even a sliver of land could be seen in any direction.
The intense storm and raging seas probably could have been avoided, if it were not for the malfunctioning of the motor and then later the radio. In repairing this old vessel we only bothered with the external. Taking time to ensure every piece of trim sparkled, the deck planks were thoroughly sealed and waxed, but never once considering the functionality of such emergency equipment. Sure they were there if we needed them, but the likelihood of that remained slim.
Eventually the pelting hail and intense lightning forced us below-deck. The cabin, cramped and close, seemed to grow ever smaller as the churning of the sea intensified. In short order the tight space became a vault, smelling strongly of vomit, which belonged to both of us. The putrid aroma became increasingly intolerable, but no possibility existed for even a quick breath of fresh air; we had to ride the storm out.
At some point, during the thrashing about, a fitful sleep claimed us both. Only the terrible crash of objects in the cabin as well our bodies slamming against one another woke me. It required little expertise to realize our vessel had capsized. Immediately I attempted to call to memory the location of the life-raft. After gathering any item deemed to be of potential value, I verified the straps on John’s life-vest were secure and eased open the hatch. Chilly, frothy seawater quickly swirled around my ankles and began to fill the cabin. We both slipped through the hatch one after the other and exited this certain tomb.
My first task would be to scale the deck, which at this stage resembled a climbing wall. Surely it would provide the best chance for survival. Finally the lid broke free and the raft bobbed in the water. After we slithered into the rubber raft, a sigh of relief came over me. Naively, I believed the most difficult portion of our trial had been conquered.
At the time the raft represented the key to survival. Time being the key—such an underrated factor in how we see things. Depending upon the severity of circumstances, only a few short days can totally and irreversibly change your point of view.
As for myself, physical rescued consumed me. I’d always been able to solve my own issues, in my own way; and believed in some twisted way that the lack of being in complete control, symbolized weakness. But ever so slowly, it became evident that the sunken sailboat and I had much in common; gleaming and sparkling on the outside, but lacking substance from within.
John, on other hand, remained consistent in his positive attitude. Completely independent of the outcome of this disaster, his belief in his final destination never wavered. John’s primary concern for his parent’s well-being over his own impressed me. He remained content with what he had accomplished in this world, and had no fear of the other side.
For days I had watched John sit and diligently pray at the other end of the boat. His lips murmured praises to a God that seemed to have abandoned us. It had been two days since we fired our last flare and still not a single sign of rescue. We had eaten our last sea-ration three days ago, and my stomach protested often. Truthfully my self-sufficient mind had run out of suggestions, possibilities, and most importantly, hope.
John, in my eyes, had always been the weaker and less successful. Now I realized he possessed many things that eluded me, such as inner-peace, hope, and faith; the kind of things necessary to sustain a man when he finds himself completely alone. Seeing no other viable solution, I supposed no harm would come in accepting his invitation to join him.
John received me with a smile and extended his hand. He treated me like a long lost friend, one that had been expected for some time. He squeezed my hand firmly and began to pray. To my surprise, his request had nothing to do with our rescue, but everything to do with my soul. My mind quickly began to sort through memories of a lifetime, a lifetime comprised primarily of regretful situations and relations. Bitter tears burned my eyes as John graciously asked ‘his God’ to remove the unnecessary weight from my shoulders. As each painful episode occurred to me, it vanished just as quickly. A life’s worth of hurtful and deceitful intentions seemed to be scattered by the wind. My lips involuntarily repeated the words John asked me to say, and once I uttered the last word a calming peace settled down upon me.
John stood up in the boat and helped me to my feet. Carefully he loosened each of the fasteners on my life-vest and it fell to the floor of the raft. John removed his preserver and tossed it alongside mine, then slid over the side of the boat into the water, and finally turned to address me.
“Come with me, my friend. My prayers have been answered and it’s time for us head home.”
I supposed at first delirium had claimed John, but the look of confidence in his eyes and the calmness in voice as he spoke, convinced me otherwise. For the first time in my life I had decided to follow someone.
As my body entered the water, the surrounding sea that had tormented me for more than a week now appeared serene and beautiful once again. With the receding of the small swells, I could see a familiar form in the distance. My wife stood there, appearing just as beautiful as our wedding day. With outstretched arms, she welcomed me and softly called my name.
Only once during the swim to meet her did I stop for a moment to rest. One fleeting glance back to the raft prompted John to speak. Perhaps he believed I wished to return there, but his words rang out clear and true across the water.
“There’s nothing left for you there, my brother. Take your own advice—and never look back.