A good friend recently shared with me that he had spent the last few months feeling a tad bit “rudderless”. My first thought was that he had been adrift, perhaps lost in the sea of life. After all, it can be crazy out there, especially if you follow politics… or sports… or water quality… or climate change… or just the comings and goings of a world that seems, at times, to have gone mad.
Sometimes I feel a tad bit rudderless, too. Where am I going? How will I get there? Why am I doing this? I find myself asking the “What If… If Only… and I Regret” questions that I know one should never ask. We all tend to ask questions like these as the winds and waves and currents of day-to-day living push us across the open ocean that we call life.
After a great weekend around boats (and on the water, of course) it occurred to me, however, that my friend hadn’t been rudderless at all. In fact, he wasn’t even adrift, he just didn’t know it. My guess is that he had let go of the wheel for a brief moment and, as his boat danced upon the water, a tiny little bit of self-doubt found its way on-board.
For those of you who aren’t mariners, a bit of terminology might be in order before we go on. The rudder, as you know, is at the back (aft or stern) of the boat. The boat may be a sail boat or a power boat, as some power boats have rudders, too. Sometimes the rudder is controlled by a tiller (think of a long horizontal stick attached to the top of the rudder, like a sideways letter “L” with a skinny long part and a fat short part) and sometimes the rudder is controlled by a wheel (like a steering wheel, but usually larger). Whew… enough of the seamanship lesson!
In the case of my friend, I’m sure that his brain had engaged the wheel (or the tiller) to steer the ship (in this case, my friend) in the right direction and, as happens from time to time, he had over corrected or even just let go for a brief moment. When we disconnect from life, even if only for a second, and let go of the wheel, our ship often follows a rather erratic course.
For me, the sea is filled with distractions… and oh how easily I can become distracted. Factor in the wind, the tide, the current and even how full the ice chest is and you have a hundred and one different possibilities that might necessitate a mid-course correction. So what is one to do?
If you look closely at the picture above, you will see not only the wheel (attached to the rudder by cables, if you hadn’t yet figured that out), but the compass, mounted at the top of the pedestal just beyond the wheel. What does a compass have to do with the rudder and the wheel, you ask? Well, the compass provides direction, through the sea of life, and helps guide us through the winds the waves, and the currents that rock us so. The reason I know that my friend was not rudderless, or even adrift, is that his compass has a “true north and he knows his “true north”. His head and heart are in the right place, his course perhaps somewhat erratic, but steady. He knows where he is going. Now to only grasp the wheel, every so lightly, and bring his ship back toward true north, the direction that he and he alone knows and knows so well.
So, my friend, you are safe. You are not yet in the bay, but you can see the entrance to the harbor, I’m sure. Your hands are back on the wheel as the spray crashes upon the bow. Your true north shines and I’m proud of you for it.
The next time you falter, and let go of the wheel, just follow you heart. Let you fingers find their way, every so softly, back to the wheel.
Your compass will always take you home.