My mom would have turned 69 today had she lived. Today marks the second birthday I’ve celebrated at sea on this trans-Atlantic passage - mine, with Mia’s birthday balls dessert on Jan 25; and mom’s this morning, where on my 0200-0400 early morning watch I shared a quiet cry and contemplated the sea and the stars for two hours by myself in the cockpit, gazing out at the vastness and just being.
Those eagle feathers Mia had gathered on the beach in far northern Norway, a good omen just prior to our Barent’s Sea crossing to Svalbard, and which have been living at the nav station ever since...I cast them into the sea this morning, a tribute to my mom today on her birthday and a way for me to break down in tears for a much needed release.
My mom was the most spiritual person I knew, in the universal sense, and I couldn’t help but think about her this morning watching the waves go by and the stars overhead. I saw three shooting stars during my time outside alone, sparkling phosphorescence in ISBJORN’s wake and distant lightning illuminating the sky in the far northwest. And she was a skeptic, where I get it from. What the hell do we know about the universe? ‘We’ as the collective humanity. Hocus-pocus or not, I felt my mom’s energy this morning and suddenly realized I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else than there just then, celebrating and thinking about her.
I reflected on a few fundamental lessons my mom taught us growing up. She was the most positive person. If you were in a hurry, don’t worry - ‘you have all the time you need.’ Short on funds? ‘You’ve got all the money you need.’ She preached acceptance, in the extreme, and I believe it’s the reason she outlived her brain cancer prognosis by a full two years. Look up glioblastoma multiforme sometime - the stats are not pretty. Most people are dead in 6 months, regardless of treatment. Mom lived two and half years, two of which were nearly symptom-free. Why? I believe it’s because she accepted it as part of her life.
I’ve been antsy for the past two days offshore, partly from lack of sleep thanks to the weird weather. This is now the longest passage we’ve ever done with ‘crew’ on the boat, and I felt restless, my mind popped out of the reality onboard and thinking of other things, a horrible habit at sea. You think the trip feels long in general - well start thinking about landfall with still 1,200 miles to go, and it’ll feel a whole lot longer.
Something clicked for me this morning though. I had slept well before Mia woke me up at 0200 to finish her 4-hour shift, as has become our routine when the weather is stable. I knew I’d do something to acknowledge my mom’s birthday, and had thought about the eagle feathers before, knew it’d make me emotional and knew that if I didn’t do it then, when I had the time and space to be by myself while everyone else slept, it wouldn’t afford me the emotional release I needed. I sat with my hands on the lifelines and feet over the side, harnessed in, and just watched the sea go by while the tears flowed, crying silently so as not to wake anybody else up (and for fear of embarrassment of course). Afterwards, in a sea clear of traffic, I laid down on the cockpit sea and gazed at the stars for an hour, realizing that yeah, this here is a pretty nice place to be right now. Accepting the last third of the voyage still ahead of us and not wishing myself away. I went back to bed at 0400 calmer than I’d been in a few days thanks to that reflection.
Days like today where I’m reminded of my mom’s presence in my life, I try to make a mental list of how she’s influenced the choices I’ve made in my life and how I can continue to live a life of purpose that she always preached. Mom taught me to accept. She taught me to always follow my heart, to trust that gut feeling when making decisions. She taught me to be positive, to love animals, to not fear, to not be embarrassed to be the odd man out. A vegetarian, mom used to carry her own salad dressing to restaurants & parties - just olive oil and balsamic vinegar - to make sure she got what she wanted on her food. She didn’t care what the waitstaff or friends thought of her.
My mom believed in positive thinking, using a cliched line from the Jimmy Buffett song Off to See the Lizard to remind us, whether we wanted reminding or not as kids. “Believe it and it will come true.” She thought it, she meant it, and obviously it’s sunk in, cause look where I’m at now, writing these words in the middle of my 4th Atlantic crossing and pursuing the only career that was ever made for me, or more accurately, made by me. It works.
I think everyone mourning a loved one should get to spend a night watch alone at sea in the tropics sometime to reflect on what that person meant to them, reflect on where they’re at in life in the present and make some heavy decisions on how to change or continue that life going forward.
The universe at sea is a powerful place man.