The boat woke up with a rush that Tuesday morning in Montague Harbour. Some had been up for hours already, tossing and turning under the bobbing lights of the anchor watchers changing shifts. It seemed unfair to me to expect thirteen-year-olds to take one hour shifts all night in the company of rain and mist and shadows. Don’t they know this is where the monsters from half-watched movies live?
I crawled out of my narrow bunk, hungry for a good story from the night before. “Were you scared?” I asked the first trainee I saw, “Were there strange creaks and groans?”
A few told tales of imaginary sea lion attacks, but mostly their minds were focused on listening for the four signs of anchor dragging. I noted their confident seriousness and decided to volunteer my services for the next night. If a thirteen-year-old can do it why can’t I?
This was my mantra for the week. I watched as thirteen year-olds scrambled up the shrouds to touch the tops of the masts.
“Is it as hard as it looks,” I asked with hope in my voice.
“The hardest part is the cold and the wind,” they said, making no mention of fear.
I watched them take turns steering the ship, listening to the marine radio, and completing oral safety tests and every time I thought to myself: This is life or death, yet they have no fear.
I always thought fear was something that dissipated with years, but now I am beginning to believe it only grows. I am not saying these kids were fearless or that I had a fear-free childhood. But I noticed a certain level of self-assurance in these trainees that I couldn’t find in my adult self. They were afraid of strong winds and sea lions, like any rational person should be, but they were not afraid of failure.
Sometime after lunch I began admitting my fears. First quietly to the ones closest.
“Those waves look rough,” I remarked peering over the port side of the ship at the small wooden row boat rocking violently below, “are you nervous about climbing in?”
“A little,” admitted the trainee beside me. She was watching intently as her classmates stepped gingerly over the side and made awkward lunges towards the frantic little boat.
“Time your step down with the movement of the waves,” called out our watch leader.
Ah yes, since the ocean always moves in such a predictable pattern, I bit my lip and kept my sarcasm to myself. When it came to my turn, I gracefully swept my legs over and down to the boat and glided to my bench in the bow. Well that wasn’t so bad.
Once I started I couldn’t stop. I began admitting my fears to crew members.
“I tried steering today,” I glanced up from the cucumber I was chopping to catch the eye of the cook.
“Sweet, how did it go?!” asked Aly.
“It was a lot harder than I thought to wrap my mind around the compass directions and the commands,” I admitted with embarrassment, “we definitely did some weird fishtails while I was at the helm cuz I got pretty confused.”
Aly laughed and nodded, “I had the same problem the first time I sailed!”
What a relief. I laughed too. The fear dissipated.
By the time the last of the invincible teens were tucked in to their bunks, I still had two more challenges to face. The first was summarizing my life for a group of coworkers turned roommates turned friends and the second was a series of 50 push ups.
Can you guess which I dreaded more?
I went to bed with a reeling mind, a tired heart, and inconsolable triceps. Did I misrepresent part of my story? Could I have kept my knees up for a little longer? Is my faith walk profound enough? Did I come off as a snob? What if I had done 5 sets of 10 push ups throughout the day? Did I spend too much time talking? What if I can’t move tomorrow morning? Will someone remember to drag me out of this bunk and prop me up on the deck somewhere? Most importantly, I still haven’t climbed the rigging. How in the world will I be able to climb with these noodle arms? I drifted off to sleep anticipating an early rise for the night watch I had committed to in a moment of courageous abandon. Goodnight fears. I have no time for you.