Pushing Off From the Dock

Early morning, but it was already getting humid. The lake surface looked like a mirror, and I wasn’t liking what I saw.

What I saw was a young man that was caught between a drive for exploration and a fear of the unknown. It was not the first, nor the last time, but became a paradigm for life.

I had bought a sailboat, a Cal 25. It was a flush-deck, Lapworth-rigged with a huge amount of sail area, but the over-glassed hull needed all of it to make way, to move the mass through the drag of the water. I would learn that such boats are made for steady, strong winds, not the capricious winds of Lake Lanier.

I had sailed with my college roommate from Chicago, who grew up on Lake Michigan. During Spring breaks, we had sailed in the Caribbean thanks to a fraternity brother from Nassau. After graduation, Kevin had bought a San Juan that we had tooled around on Lanier, me providing the grunt work with hoisting sails. Being the captain of a sailboat was just a dream I had stolen from Stuart Woods and William F. Buckley. It was a fantasy of mine, and yet here I was, on the edge of adventure.

I had taken delivery from the Gainesville boat company that left it tied up at the end of a dock at Aqualand, a marina that catered to Atlanta escapees and wannabes. I had dropped a check off to secure my title, and then made the drive in my SAAB north to my rendezvous with this fiberglass beast.

She was not pretty, not in the least. She had spent her youth in the Caribbean , running from island to island, doing nefarious things, I fantasized. But now, here she was, waiting for me like an experienced woman of the night, willing to teach me how to catch the wind.

After inspecting the boat, like I knew what I was doing, I thought I might wash her down, show her some love. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was going to have to move her to my slip on F dock in another part of the marina. It was not far away. I could simply start the Evinrude motor to back her out, motor her to her new home, and call it a day. But the challenge that yelled at me was not unlike a lady I once knew: Sail me! she insisted.

The thought of pushing off from the safety of the dock teased me, both thrilling me with the possibility of setting sail into this new day, full of promise, and scaring me to death with images of grounding her, ramming a dock, hitting another boat, tangling the lines hopelessly…..namely, looking like the landlubbing fool I knew that lurked beneath my Lands End polo and trunks. A “poser” was at the top of my shit list, my greatest disdain, and yet, here I was.

I gathered my courage, which was running on empty, but my resolve to catch the wind prevailed. I cast off the dock lines, jumped aboard, by myself, single-handed fool that I was. In a moment that remains on the mantlepiece of my memory, I pushed off from that dock, and its illusion of security, headed out of my little harbor into the open water, small as a mountain lake but as challenging as a transatlantic passage for this Atlanta home boy.

That’s really my story. It has been my paradigm, my model for living. Pushing off into adventure. That day, it went surprisingly well, hoisting the main, setting the genoa, sailing up the lake to the dam, an easy sail, a simple series of reaches, tacks, and eventually beating my way against the wind, putting the rail into the water, bringing a smile. It was a great day for the home team when I brought her home to her new slip in Aqualand where she would be my learning lab for two years. I was to graduate to a new Cal, with prettier lines and a more livable cabin, but my first boat, my first love still catches my breath. I imagine that ‘s why they cast boats in the feminine.

My memory of this peculiar and particular morning was prompted by listening to Bruce Springstein talking about the night he left Freehold, New Jersey as a nineteen year old. “Nothing like being young and leaving some place”. He was on the top of a flatbed truck, feeling the wind, looking at the stars overhead, and embracing the freedom of leaving home. The thrill of adventure, of pushing off the dock, leaving the safety of home or harbor, or both. Exhilarating. Just the stuff of youth? Wasted on the youth? I think not.

I felt it again a few months back, as I pushed off my dock in Atlanta, headed south for the island, a new life. Thrilling, and sad, at one moment, sensing a promising new chapter while sadly aware of an ending. Maybe I am a bit wizened or beat up to get beyond the illusion of full freedom. We all are pulling trailers of the past, regardless if we are nineteen or ninety. But the thrill remains.

A new place, a blank piece of paper, or the blinking cursor on a screen. New. Possible, Adventure. Birth. Or rebirth.

What words come to your mind? Your heart? Your soul?

In my tradition, my tribe, it’s the season on Advent. It’s a pregnant time of looking to the horizon with hope, hoping to catch a fresh wind in one’s sails, to sense the magic of movement, powered by the Bernoulli effect or the spirit of discovery.

Advent signals four weeks of preparation, of looking for the fresh, anticipation, of hope.

Dare you hope, in the deep wake of a pandemic, in the split, divisive play of politics? In this dark darkness, dare you squint you eyes to catch a glimpse of the new, the possible, the fresh wind of the Spirit? That’s a question that actually confronts us each morning as we awake to start a new day. Is it just a grind, another day to check off, or is it a time to be embraced with hope?

I have recently written about mindfulness, including a pregnant pause, centering, and journaling. All of these are tactics that serve a deeper strategy of living fully, being present. The image of being awake has always been appealing to me. I once played with the image of the proverbial “snooze alarm” that we push when we don’t want to wake up. I employed it in a tense, tight moment of racial tension in Texas, but the truth is, it is applicable every day. Do we want to wake up to the possibility of the Now moment, or do we choose the zombie way, merely moving without awareness?

Advent gets us in touch with the choices we have made and are making in terms of how we want to live our lives. Four weeks to try to wake us up. It seems timely as it comes in the darkest time of the year, when the nights are longest. Will we grope for the snooze button, or shall we choose to wake up?

For me, it has always been facing the challenge, embracing it, especially the risks, for I can no longer plead youth. But then, I get to choose, the unique existential burden and glory of being human, the “deciding” that is distinctively human. Can I muster the courage to push off the dock again, into the deep water of adventure?

Play with it, if you find it intriguing, or suggestive. What is the dock you are tied to? What makes it secure and comfortable? Why in the world would you want to leave it? What adventure awaits? What dangers are there? Where are you in this time in your life? In my book, the key is in the act of deciding, you making that decision as to what you want to do, what you need to do?

Advent is a precarious season. It threatens to wake you up, to bring you to the cold-faced awareness that there is a decision to be made. To push off and head to open waters….or to remain at dock. What a blessing and curse it is to decide. Regardless, it is our call as creatures on this earth.

I remember the feel of the wind on my cheek, promising to take me away. Do you feel it?

2 thoughts on “Pushing Off From the Dock

  1. Another winner, Dave. The imagery is quite vivid, and anyone who has ever sailed knows that mixture of feelings when “pushing off”. I had not realized that Getzendanner was such a sailor. I am glad that I, along with my parents, was able to contribue in a small way to this segment of your body of stories.

    Your Nassau connection.



    1. Stu, it was such a gift to be able to be hosted by your parents. The sailing in Nassau Bay on Hobies was crazy. I think Brett went turtle at one point and we had to get an assist from a power boat to right his boat. Eleuthera was magical. Such a treat. Sailing was my therapy in those first years of priesthood.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, my brother.


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