Monday, October 14, 2013

Horizons

Aside from the rain there a few other things that make me very happy when I can enjoy them:  one of these is boats and another is open water that I cannot see across.  There is something about standing on the beach of some big piece of lake or ocean, or being on a boat where I can no longer see land that gives me joy.  I’m not sure why.  I started thinking about that tonight.

When I was a boy, probably sometime in junior high or early high school, my father decided to learn to be a sailor.  He took all sorts of classes through the park district. He and his classmates would practice on the “Twin Lakes” which were really just two small ponds down the way from our house.  I took an interest in what he was doing so after he would learn something he passed along to me.  I remember nights sitting with ropes hanging off of the dining room chairs practicing with him how to tie complicated knots to hold the riggings, and then how to undo them very quickly in case you needed to adjust sails, or drop them when required.   When he felt like he was getting fairly proficient at the craft, he bought himself a little Sunfish and we would sit in the driveway messing around, trying to understand exactly how the wind worked. 
Later on as he got better and better he would take me out to a bigger lake near where he worked, up around Long Grove, where he was able to keep the boat.  We would sail around all afternoon in the sun and talk. One afternoon when we were out on the water an unexpected storm came in.  It rained like hell, but working together we were able to get the boat into shore and secure it until we could get it out of the water.    When we got in my dad’s van, completely soaked, we laughed.  He said “Well, that didn’t go as planned. “  He also said, “Still, a bad day on the water beats a good day in the office every time.”

Later on, he and I would have other adventures in boats.  One time when we were vacationing in Virginia, we took a little rented boat out on the Chesapeake Bay because we wanted to see if we could catch crab.  We bought a couple of whole chickens, went to where the man at the bait store told us to go , threw the grappled poultry overboard  and read books while we bobbed up and down on the gentle waves waiting.   At one point he got up and suddenly, very urgently, said, “We have to get out of here.”  I said “What’s the matter, Dad?”  He pointed and you could see four dark black fins just above the surface skimming in formation nearby.  He started the engine of the boat and we beat it back to the marina as fast as possible.   I seem to remember just cutting the bait and running.  When we told the man who helped us to bring the boat in what we saw, he just laughed.  “Those weren’t sharks,” he said.  “Those were mantas.  They tip the sides of their wings up from the water to scare predators away.” 

Dad and I felt foolish and we didn’t have any crab. Again he said, "That didn't work out quite as planned." We still nevertheless had a great day together out on the bay, reading, talking and looking out over the horizon.  As a boy I always imagined what might be out there on the other side of the ocean and wondered if I would ever get a chance to see it.  Maybe that is why horizons like you see at Lake Michigan or on the oceans have always intrigued me.  Maybe it is the mystery of what is on the other side.  Maybe the reason I always liked boats is because I saw them as a vehicle to the answer.

There are two reasons I have been thinking about horizons lately.  One of them is because I saw a post from a good high school friend, Scott, about how he had accomplished something in his career that was going to take him in a whole new direction.   He was excited about the prospects of moving forward in a new way.  I sent him a note to congratulate him on going toward a new horizon for him.  I told him that when he arrived at that horizon, he would see another horizon, and that I was sure, because of who he is, he will charge on to that next one too and all the ones after that.  I started wondering if I have thought about my own words enough.

The other reason I was thinking about horizons was that I had a conversation with a very wise friend who has been talking to me, helping me to adjust to a world I didn’t plan for.  My vision for the future was a lot different than it is currently unfolding.  I never dreamed that Parkinson’s would come into my life.  I didn't plan on things that were once easy for me to do are now difficult. I didn’t plan on not working like I used to. I thought I would work in the corporate world until the time came that kids were taken care of and Karen and I could go off and do nothing but be together. My friend  helped me to understand that the reality of the world is that we all of have visions of what the future holds for us and we plan around that, but the future doesn’t always work out exactly how we planned.  We don’t plan on things happening that change our lives.  We plan on achieving success and continued joy, on moving towards an envisioned retirement.  We don’t plan on the deaths of love ones, illnesses, divorce, turns of economic circumstances, or all of the other things that crop up in our world.  It happens though.

It is easy in these times to get angry at God, people and the world; to shut everything out.  The question is what purpose does that really serve?  Does it it move you toward a horizon or does it leave you adrift on your own, alone, waiting for the waves to float you back to shore?

My friend helped me to keep in mind that these unexpected events, just like storms and manta rays, don’t have to ruin us or eliminate joy.  It means readjusting to what your horizons are, sometimes on the fly over time.  It’s about accepting that the future might not look like what you always held in your head. It means thinking about what a different version of the future might look like for you and pursuing that.   My world looks a lot different than it used to but it’s not a bad world.  I get to do a lot of things I never had the chance or the time to do before.  I get to be with people I love. It’s a full life but still a different life than I expected.

Technically speaking, horizons are not fixed phenomena.   They are, like life, constantly moving and changing depending on where you are and where you are looking.   They also never go away; they’re always there. 

After thinking about this for awhile I have arrived at the conclusion that the important thing is that no matter what happens in our lives we have to keep sailing towards horizons.  I suggest that the beauty in the mystery inherent in horizons is not only in finally reaching and finding out what lies beyond them, but in boldly embracing their secret nature and vigorously charging ahead. It is important to keep sailing and moving ahead to each different horizon that emerges in our sight as we go.  Mostly it’s about taking joy in every day, good or bad, out on the water.