The late afternoon Aegean sun soaks into my shoulders. I’m perched on the stern of the boat, my legs dangling over the edge. From time to time, I feel the cool splash of ocean spray on my skin. It’s silent but for the rush of water and the occasional hollow thump of wind in sails. I’m here alone, on a sailboat in the Greek Islands, and I’m absolutely in my element. But how I ended up here is a bit of a story.
My ex-husband announced that he was leaving our marriage one month after my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In a space of four weeks, I had to face the impending loss of the two most important men in my life. My dad had been a rock in my life. He was a generous-hearted man who adored his daughters. My sister and I grew up knowing that he would do anything for us. When he told me that he was dying of prostate cancer, I had no idea how I would survive this huge loss in my life.
And then a month later, my husband told me he was leaving our marriage. My world fell apart. All at once I was losing the two men on whom I had most depended. I felt like I had lost safe harbour, like I was out on the high seas alone, far, far from land. It was terrifying. All I wanted was to feel safe again, to feel protected. But I was on my own.
I weathered those seas. I survived my husband leaving me, and focussed on providing my kids with love, stability and safety. And during that time, I found my own way back to happy. Less than a year after my marriage ended, my dad died. But, having survived the divorce, I was able to access reservoirs of strength I’d never known I had. “We’re going to get through this,” I’d tell my mom. “We’re going to be okay.”
Two years later, I found myself on a sailboat in Greece. I was there alone. I thought that I’d chosen that particular trip because it was one of the only ones I could find that fell within the two week period when my ex had the boys. But actually I think that trip chose me. After two years of feeling unmoored, of feeling lost at sea, of longing for safe harbour, I needed to face my fears about sailing alone, and about being alone. What I learned in Greece was that actually I love being on my own. And I really love sailing in high seas. One of the most exhilarating experiences of my life was flying along in that boat, sails up, in a forty knot wind, the gunnels of the boat dipping into the waves. (I also discovered that gin and tonic is a most effective antidote to sea sickness, but that’s another story).
At this place in my life, I need to remember that though I’d prefer safe harbour, and the comfort and security I find in being in a relationship, I don’t actually need it. I need to remember that I’m okay on my own, that when I’m on my own, I am most true to myself, most likely to challenge myself, most likely to find beauty in unlikely places. And I need to remember the sheer exhilaration of sailing in high seas.
Maybe I just need to fix myself a gin and tonic.