'You can choose a ready guide
in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide,
you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears
and kindness that can kill.
I will choose a purpose clear
I will choose free will.'
Ah, the timeless words of Geddy Lee. Those north of the border know him as one of Canada's greatest exports, next hockey and Labatt Blue. The rest of us know him as that guy in that band that sounds like a chick.
For some reason, Rush's 'Free Will' song came to mind as a clever way to introduce this post. Lately I've been struggling with what has been the most difficult decision of my entire life. It shouldn't have been, in retrospect, but over the past few weeks my mind has endlessly mulled over every possible scenario, trying to find the best result.
I guess from an outside perspective, I should envy myself for having to make this decision in the first place...go to the Caribbean and work as skipper of a sailboat for 3 months, or go to Annapolis and work as a crewmember and live on a sailboat for the summer. Tough choice right? In a vacuum I would choose the Caribbean in a heartbeat. Alas, life is not lived in a vacuum (all of our eyes would pop out of our heads!) and people and circumstances inevitably make simple choices so much more complicated.
Back in Prague, I decided to decline an offer I'd received to skipper a boat in the Caribbean for the summer, with a teen summer camp called Broadreach. I had pumped myself up about actually going there, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, I abruptly changed my mind. I actually declined on the phone, during the same conversation that was supposed to sort out my hiring details.
At the time I was happy with the decision. I became excited to return to Annapolis, live on the 'Sojourner' and enjoy the life I'd created for myself over the past two years there. But something changed, and my mind grew restless and confused. I was second-guessing myself, worried that'd I'd taken the easy way out. Like in Seinfeld when Jerry lectures Banya on eating soup at Mendy's: 'We can eat at Mendy's and you can get the soup you know you like...or we can eat somewhere else, and it might be good, and it might be bad, but YOU DON'T KNOW!'
Well, I didn't know what the soup would taste like in St. Martin, and I still don't know. But 5 minutes ago, I ordered a bowl of it. I took a leap of faith, followed my intuition, and signed on to be a skipper for Broadreach. I'm lucky to even have the opportunity after initially declining the offer. It turns out I was the company's first choice to hire as a skipper, and they enthusiastically welcomed my return, despite my initial indecision.
I wrote the commitment email this morning around 10am Sweden time. I didn't send it until 5:30pm this evening. My mind has been doing backflips for the past two weeks trying to wrap itself around this decision. Again, in a vacuum I'd take the Broadreach offer without a second thought. But I couldn't help considering the other people involved in this decision. It means another 3 months away from my family. Another 3 months away from hanging out with my sister, inviting her and her friends to come sailing on the Bay while they're off from school. 3 months of not being able to visit my grandparents, who's presence, strangely, I feel I've missed more than anyone else. It means 3 months away from Deb, Shorty, Ed and the guys at Sarles Marina, my seasonal home. It means 3 months away from the 'Woodwind' family, from enjoying crewing on the Bay, serving beers, match racing, training new crew, the possibility of maybe captaining a few trips here and there. And it also means two months of having Mia live on 'Sojourner' sacrificed.
That was the toughest part. I robbed her of her only opportunity to experience living aboard in Annapolis, my favorite of all towns. She is trapped by having to go to school from September to June every year, and that small time in the summer was her only chance to experience, for the second time, my life at home. I wrestled with this thought the most, and simply could not come to grips with letting her miss out on this, but also couldn't accept letting myself miss out on the opportunity in the Caribbean. So I talked to her about it.
Last night, we stayed up until 2am, and had perhaps the most cleansing, mind-clearing conversation I've ever had with anyone. I nearly feel asleep, no better off than I'd be yesterday afternoon, bitter with being in Sweden and sacrificing my life to be with Mia, and frustrated over not being able to follow my dreams in the summer. And then Mia asked me if I felt like I was myself since I arrived in Sweden. I haven't been, in the slightest bit, and this prompted the resulting conversation.
We talked about life, and the sacrifices we each had to make in order to maintain this unusual relationship and lifestyle. Neither of us like to compromise. Inevitably we'd have to if this was going to work. And finally I was able to tell her what I really wanted to tell her. I don't know what's in store for me in Sweden, but I know that to pursue my dreams as a sailor, this is not exactly the ideal place to do that. And I miss my family, and I miss my friends. I made an enormous sacrifice coming here in the first place, which Mia acknowledged. I told her, finally, that all I really wanted was to be able to go home in April, guilt free, and return in November, enjoying the full summer in Annapolis, and maximizing my time with my friends and pursuing my career. I don't know why it was so difficult to tell her this in the first place, but once I did, and she agreed with me, an enormous weight was lifted off of my shoulders. It was that easy. My bitterness and negativity evaporated almost immediately, and I had trouble falling asleep, not because of doubt, but because of excitement about the possibilities that existed knowing I had the support of the most beautiful woman on the planet behind me, even if that meant not seeing her for a longer time this summer. I realized that a happy Andy for 7-8 months out of the year is a much better alternative than an unhappy Andy for 9-12 months a year, and Mia understood this 100%.
Every major decision I've ever had to make in my life has come from within, and has never relied on circumstances or logic. The best example I can think of was my decision to switch from Spanish class to German class in 9th grade. I had zero logical reasons to switch classes 4 weeks into my high school career. I simply felt that it was the right thing to do. Dane Miller could not stop telling me how amazing Herr K was as a teacher. I didn't dislike the Spanish teacher, and I even had an 'A' in the class, but something was telling me to change. So I went to the guidance counselor, who made our schedules, and told him my problem. The administration at school was somewhat perplexed, wondering why I wanted to change, and I didn't really have a reason, other than that it felt 'right.' Miraculously, they let me. Herr K did not make the change easy on me. I was goaded as the 'Spanish student', and forced to sit in the front of the class next to Helmut (Dane) and was constantly harassed. Three years later, I became the second person to exempt Herr K's hellacious German 3 final. The other person was Brandon Miller, the wunderkind who got a 1600 on his SAT's. I made sure to show up in class the day of the final anyway, just to remind everyone that I didn't have to take the test. A year later I was awarded the SV Foreign Language Award, for being the best foreign language student in my graduating class, in any language.
But the real benefit from switching classes was the life lessons I learned in Herr K's class. As the students dwindled in numbers, us devotees simply smiled. We 'got' Herr K, and we cherished his lessons. I can say with confidence that he is only slightly less responsible for my current life situation and my dreams than myself. His class had so much of an impact on me that I can recall minute details to this day.
Similar forces were at work when I ultimately decided to return to Broadreach today. I wrote a post a while back, after the 2007 Schooner Race, about how I felt like I needed to go to Morocco because in the span of 3 days I encountered like 5 different references to the place in eery fashion. A similar thing happened in the last two days regarding the Broadreach decision, and I refuse to believe that they were merely coincidences.
I was seriously considering contacting Broadreach about reneging on my refusal, and had even sent an email to the hiring director to see if they still needed skippers and if they still wanted me. That was almost immediately answered with a resounding 'yes' on both accounts, which began the though process in earnest. I began an open dialog with the hiring director, and was 100% honest about my thought process and my concerns. During this time frame, which lasted about an hour, and included 3-4 emails sent back and forth to Broadreach, I was listening to The Killers 'Sawdust'' album, their latest. It's 17 songs of remixes, covers and B-sides, and in my opinion is one of their best. Well, this cd has a hidden track on it that I was unaware of. The final song on the album is a mesmerizing remix of 'Mr. Brightside' that goes on for over 8 minutes. This song played as I contemplated the latest email from Lauren, the Broadreach hiring director. Then it ended, and there was silence. Literally the instant I hit the 'reply' button on my email to ask some more questions, the hidden track came on. It was no more than 1 minute long, and was simply a catchy little jingle, not even a song really. When I listened, I was stunned. The lyrics went like this:
'His beard is long and read
his hat stays on his head.
He asks us all the questions,
and we know all the answers.
Hi heart lies in the ocean,
his devotions to the city of fun.
(He's the captain!)
He's the captain,
He's the captain,
Recall that this song came on only after 5+ minutes of silence, when I was lost in the deepest thought I had about this entire scenario. It was literally terrifying and immensely motivating at the same time. But this wasn't the end of the weird happenings.
Today when I got back from my run there was a note from the mailman that I had a package waiting for me at the post office. So I went and picked it up. I was a few Valentine's Day cards from my mom and sister, plus a Spinsheet magazine. And, curiously, a photocopy of the origin of my name, that my mom's chiropractor of all people had give her. It's worth noting that this package was sent over a week ago, at which time I had zero inclination of returning to Broadreach. It was just some interesting stuff my mom thought I'd like, including an article about winter liveaboards in Annapolis in which Micah's photo appeared. But the interesting bit was the name thing from the chiropractor. It floored me. This is what it said:
'The Runic Interpretation'
'It's difficult for Andy to make decisions that stick because he's so changeable. One day he's certain he's going off in one direction, and the next day he cancels the appointments he just made. He can be a jack-of-all-trades, but he won't find success until he finds one thing to do very well. Andy uses his energy to come to terms with his relationship with money - and over time, he even manages to sew up that hole in his pocket! The Nauthiz represents constraint (or hardship), and many of Andy's hard-won lessons do cause him to have enormous insights. People who know him remark that he seems directed and motivated, and seems to be following a good course in his life. They are right to compliment him; he is spiritual, and his faith shines light on his path. Andy knows that we are keenly observed from the other side, and this faith helps him find satisfaction in today. He doesn't feel he needs to impress anyone. He's good to his family, and in his old age they pamper and spoil him.'
Okay, so maybe that last sentence can be changed to 'in his young age...', but nonetheless, you can see the eeriness that I felt when I first read that this afternoon. Why on earth would my mom's chiropractor even think to bring her this excerpt from an obviously weird book, and what are the chances that it arrived in Sweden on the very day when my decision-making process would reach it's apex? And there is more...
I was wandering around the interweb today, searching for answers, and just killing time because I had nothing better to do. I found myself on Lats and Atts website, and discovered for the first time that they have an online magazine now, free to anyone who cares to look at it. It's a clever .pdf replication of their print magazine, and even lets you virtually turn the pages, reproducing everything from the print magazines photos to the advertisements, and everything is clickable. Quite clever indeed. When I virtually 'turned' to the first pages inside the front cover, big Bob offered an editorial, as he usually does. It was about adventure, as it probably usually is, but I paid more attention now than ever, looking for signs to help me make a decision. Here are a few eerie excerpts:
"The security of a good harbor is truly a wonderful thing. But as Tennesee Williams once said, 'Security is a kind of death!' Once you are satisfied with the safe surroundings and decide to wander into harms way no more, than you will find your life starting to ebb away; the joy and thrill of victory no longer possible.
It's true that the vast majority of people will choose security long before they will choose adventure. After all, it's more secure right? And it's a lot more comfortable.'
The combination of my intuition, that intro to one of my favorite magazines, the hidden song that emerged last night at the perfect moment, and the package that arrived on the other side of the Atlantic at the precise moment it needed to made me realize that I really had no decision to make at all. It was already made for me, and something was desperately trying to get me to realize this. So, after my commitment email sat unsent on the desktop of my computer all day, I finally hit the 'send' button this evening and sealed my future. Strangely, I feel decidedly anticlimactic about the whole thing, but completely secure with my decision. I've finally taken my own advice, and the unknown beckons.