River Ghazal by Michael Delp
I gave my life away. Sent the skin to each compass point, prayed that something still alive would drift back home.
What sound other than water can keep you alive? Know the voice you choose to speak your name.
Life is water. Water refreshes. It’s ever changing; each moment matters; each wave is a chance for change. Water relaxes. It washes away the worries and the sorrow. Water rejoices. The sun glitters on its rippled face, the wind dances across its crests, and sometimes when you’re really lucky the stars reflect off its glassy surface. Water washes. After a sail beating into the wind, a strong rain scrubs away the salt crusted on our decks. After a tough night, a morning swim or a dive wipes away the furrowed brow. When nothing else seems right, when everything else is painful and stressful and sad, water is right, water is relaxing and nourishing and invigorating. A life without water isn’t worth living.
That’s what this whole cruising life comes down to for me: being on, in and under the water. Sailing friends think it’s about the sailing. Friends and family think it’s about the travel, the adventure. Work friends think it’s about ditching the Blackberry and the twenty-hour workdays. I think it’s about water. It’s about living surrounded by water. Blue to starboard, blue to port, blue off the bow, and off the stern. Blue up the mast and blue under the keel. Bullet point number one my list of priorities when I left my career and my city behind was water: to live on water I can swim in every day. What other than water can keep me alive?
After a lifetime in Midwestern fresh water, I’ve come to embrace the salt of our cruising waters. It’s gritty; it tangles and dries my hair, it corrodes my stainless and rots my teak, it ruins my zippers and stains my leather. But the trifecta of a long run dripping in salty sweat, together with a good cry soaked in salty tears, and a swim in salt water surf – that’s my sole recipe for reparations. Salt water’s not cleansing like fresh water is; it’s purging. Its particles dig deep and flush fully.
But salt water is not always easy to love. After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, I spent a few days on the beach in Phuket, Thailand. It took me a day or two to walk from the dune down to the waterline, and another day or two to walk into the water. This water that I had so loved – that I considered my lifeline and my remedy to all evils – had caused mass destruction and killed tens of thousands of people. It had bent steel and dissolved concrete. This force that usually empowers us and carries us had brought its entire strength down on us. It crippled Japan. It broke my heart. And yet, there, in Phuket, it was the same soothing sound of waves breaking on the sand that had lulled me to sleep all those years. It was the same blue horizon into which the sun dipped at night. Finally, I laid down in the surf and let the water wash away my tears, let the waves relax my body. I made my peace with the ocean.
This hurricane season, dear friends lost their homes, their businesses and their boats to waves, wind and water. Islands I love were decimated; islanders that were so welcoming were ravished. It was hard to watch thirty foot salt water breakers crash on treasured beaches, from the safety of my parents’ home on our freshwater lake in the middle of America. I can’t imagine how hard it was for people directly affected. I hope they can find peace with the ocean someday.
Even in these tough times, I do not regret the choice to live on the water. It is the only thing keeping me alive.