Lessons from Adversity, Part II

“It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?” –from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

I have read lots of books about disasters at sea—call it research, if you will. I always wonder, “How would I handle a similar circumstance?” I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t really know until you’re in the thick of it. I’ve also read the Little House series of books to the kids (by Laura Ingalls Wilder) about the survival of a pioneer family, and often hoped I would handle adversity like Ma, who weathers everything with composure.

I’m sure Jay will give the blow-by-blow of our little encounter with Mother Nature recently, so I will spare you the details. We learned a lot, though, from our miserable few hours. One thing I learned was that I only freak out about small things. When it comes to the moment when panic might be expected, I was actually very calm. I owe this to two things: prayer (that is, faith that we’re being looked after), and the need to reassure my children. While waves washed over the top of our main cabin and everything around us tossed and turned (including the contents of all our drawers and cupboards), I sat and read Beatrix Potter’s timeless stories loud enough to cover the sound of wind and waves. It really helped the kids stay calm and happy. I confess that I wondered when and how it would all end, but while we were in it, I decided to make the best of it, and hope that we’d find a safe and quiet place to recuperate. We did.

Another thing I learned was that Jay and I can do this, even with four (or five) children. Even in unpleasant conditions. I am not good at snap decisions, like if Jay asks me to look at the chart and find us a safe place to anchor, or if he hands me the wheel without explicit instructions and then heads up on deck. But I am good for a second opinion, and I’m good at preparing ahead of time, and I can follow instructions and provide endless snacks and drinks and dry clothes to wet and tired crew. Jay can stand for hours in cold and salt and wet, enduring the ills of seasickness or adrenaline overload, making decisions that are difficult because the outcome is hard to predict. He’s never gotten us into a mess he can’t get us out of. And, I must say, he can be humble, like when he apologized to all of us for heading into bad weather instead of stopping earlier. He is a good captain, in short, and I am good at supporting him in the role of first mate.

The kids, in their turn, are good at entertaining themselves on travel days, are sympathetic when they see us stressed or struggling, and don’t complain when conditions are rough—they just lie around quietly and wait for us to fix things. If I someone gets cut or hurt in some way, they are quick to run for first aid supplies, and are not bad at caretaking. The older ones help the younger, and when called upon, they are good assistants to us as well. Suffering something difficult together really reveals not only your weaknesses, but also your strengths, and I am proud of how far this family has come in learning to operate as a team.

We are also learning to trust our boat more and more. Of course, if you’re never in unpleasant conditions, you don’t really test the boat at all, and despite our stated goals to do so, we never seek out these conditions. But we figured eventually they would find us, and we would find out what this boat can do. We are learning how strong she is structurally, how well her systems work, for the most part, and what a good and comfortable home she makes for us. We are also learning her weaknesses, and what things we can do to ameliorate them. One last thing we learned: she heaves to just fine (that’s a mono-hull trick where you can use a sail and the rudder to basically stop the boat), and it’s a great way to buy a few minutes’ respite and figure out what to do next. As long as you’re not going to drift into anything, you could even use this tactic to get a few hours’ sleep if you were really worn out from a long storm, or waiting for daylight to enter an unfamiliar harbor. 

We are making a nice recovery—fixing broken things, de-salinating and drying out, cleaning up and re-organizing. It feels good to be anchored and not moving, just resting up for the next leg of the trip. I am glad we learned the things we did while we were in the middle of the storm, but, all the same, I hope we don’t need to heave to again anytime soon.