A stressed Northeast native recalls overcoming her fear of sailing, and the liberation it afforded her.
By Sally Friedman
I remember a time in my life when the mere notion of staying aboard a ship for seven days would have been unthinkable. Too confining. Downright boring. But as it turns out, it was glorious, right down to the timing.
Just as winter was drifting into spring, but not quite there yet — — just as we’d finished facing our income tax preparation and also a hugely disruptive plumbing project — — we took a second look at our preconceptions about travel.
We admitted it: my husband and I realized that sightseeing was actually — — well, exhausting. And that car trips set the stage for searing battles about directions, how and when to stop, and why no self-respecting person would leave gum wrappers on car upholstery.
No, we were not destined to ride the highway of life together without sputters and spats. Nor were we terrific, at this stage of life, on regimented tours that translated into, “If this is Tuesday, it must be (fill in the blank).”
So there we were on a Sunday afternoon, going through the jammed embarkation point in Miami where cruise ships dock, awaiting passengers ready to surrender to the high seas. There was that single moment when I looked into the stateroom we’d been assigned on a majestic vessel that suddenly seemed the size of Manhattan — and I’d wondered, “Can I do this?”
Snug, neat but definitely, dauntingly small, it was to be our home away from home, and suddenly, I wanted the comfort and space we’d left behind.
But that momentary panic lasted only until the shipboard guardian angel known as the “cabin steward” greeted us so warmly that it was as if a kindly uncle was watching over us. Oswald would become our official pamperer/spoiler for seven deliciously indulgent days.
The very things I’d worried about turned out to be non-issues: I did not get seasick on the waters of the Western Caribbean. I did not feel trapped in our cabin, and even grew to love its cleverly arranged space and spunky storage. There was not a wasted inch, and in a world of wretched excess, I found that refreshing. Speaking of wretched excess, the doomsayers were right about the food on cruises. It’s always there, always enticing, and yes, you eat it. Too much of it.
And no matter how many turns you do around the deck, your clothes somehow shrink by Day Three…
Still, cruising does wonders for the overstressed soul. It’s incredible to look out and see nothing — absolutely nothing — but water. And no one will ever convince me that the stars are not brighter at sea, and that the breezes are not lovelier than on land.
One night, my husband and I sat out on our tiny balcony in silence, the kind that’s enveloping and lovely and comfortable, as the world floated by.
We explored ports of call where tiny pastel cottages dotted the landscape, met strangers who morphed into friends, and forgot all about what color to paint the utility room, or what to do about the old car’s muffler.
We met folks from Arkansas — — and from the suburb two towns away from our own. We played foolish games around a gigantic pool, not caring at all about how silly two very mature adults might appear. In other words, consciousness of self was somehow stripped away on that great blue expanse of water.
Too soon, the announcements began about disembarking from the grand ship. Too soon, it was our last dinner, our last walk around the deck at midnight under a gorgeous moon.
And seven days after two timid sailors had set sail, it was all over. It was back to real life, complete with the mayhem of the Miami airport, the inevitable security checks, and the realization that no cabin steward would be leaving chocolates on our pillows, or fashioning our towels into whimsical terrycloth animals.
But for a blink of time, we had stopped the world. The relentless march of time had been suspended.
And at any stage of life, that’s surely cause for celebration. ••
Sally Friedman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org