Monday, January 15, 2018

When and If

A few years ago, while living in Scotland and playing my bagpipes with the Royal Burgh of Stirling Pipe Band, I was fortunate enough to join them in performing at that year's Nuit Interceltique in Paris. Our band was flown to France for 5 days to rehearse and perform with doze

ns of other Celtic-rooted talents from all over the globe; pipers and dancers, singers and fiddlers, from Pakistan to Brittany, India to China, Canada to Ireland. But the part of the performance I recall most fondly didn’t occur on the main stage.

It was 3:00 am, during the after-party that followed the final act, in the underground caverns of Stade de France.  With much whiskey being handed around, world-class bagpipers were taking turns showing off their talents. A couple hundred of us were crowded into a small room, drinking and conversing, and a generally  rowdy and joyous atmosphere prevailed. Then, a tenor from the all-male Welsh choir, a group of distinguished and primarily older gentleman, made his way to the center of the mob. He stepped up onto an inverted milk crate, and began to motion with his hands for us all to shush and settle down. It took some time, but one by one, folks began to comply, until eventually, you could have heard a pin drop in the room.

And that’s when he began to sing.

 ‘Some say love, it is a river, that drowns the tender reed…’

One by one, the other members of the choir, scattered amongst the crowd, joined him. The entire audience, more male than female, was entirely captivated.  By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Certain rare moments create memories that will last a lifetime because of the way they made you feel.

In the same way, a handful of people during our lifetime can leave the same, indelible mark.

Sailing off Cape Cod, late December
Over the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure (mostly) of spending weeks at a time  aboard small boats with a variety of characters, most of whom were perfect strangers as we cast off the lines and headed for open water.  Thousands of sea miles later, I’ve shared passages between Maine and the Bahamas, Florida and Virgin Gorda, Bermuda and New York, Rhode Island and Sint Maarten, with international crews hailing from Scotland, France, New Zealand, England, South Africa, and the United States. Every trip brought its own trials, some more personal than others. For some voyages, the primary challenge was the weather, as with the 95-foot ketch Carmella.  Delays forced us to get underway from Camden after Christmas, and I had never before and will never again subject myself to the conditions we encountered during that trip. Never. Ever ever. With other deliveries, the weather and the sailing aspects were simple and pleasant; it was the company that left something to be desired. And in the case of Conchflyer, well, that little bi---oat just plain tried to kill us. 

Gerry and I, aboard Annie Laurie
   Through all these passages, I have been exposed to challenges that have forced me to confront some of my biggest fears (Cockroaches, Cooking for Others, Love).  It has also cast too bright of a spotlight on where I, myself, am still lacking.  I have felt useless, incompetent, and irrelevant on one boat, only to find myself feeling valuable, essential, and loved on the next. I have misinterpreted situations and intentions, and have been left with unresolved regrets. In the lowest of times, I remind myself of the encouragement I could always count on from good friend whom I recently lost (so many of us lost…).  He believed in me, and knew where my talents lay, especially when the going got rough.  I always felt like I could do anything after a conversation with Gerry. “You’re fine, Laura. You are fiiine,” he would say with a smile, in his Irish leprechaun way. Then he would laugh at me, and give me a hug. That’s how the majority of our conversations would end, and I would walk away with a new, more positive perspective on my life. Oh, to have just one more talk with Gerry over a glass of wine at the Redneck Yacht Club on the Miami River. I would give anything, especially after a day like today.

It seems the only constant in my life is starting over, and for now, Antigua is not a bad place to try, as winter looms over Maine.  My flying dreams are only temporarily on hold, as I work as 1st Mate on a sailing yacht in order to earn the means to finish my instrument rating and commercial license.  And when that happens, I hope I'll be ready to start over once again.