The buoyant version of spring cleaning is known as commissioning the boat. When the temperatures creep above 65º F boaters in the northern lats get the itch to spit and polish their topsides. It seems counterintuitive to begin a recreation season by working one’s butt off but scaly winter white thighs and a tad-tight drawstring on one’s shorts motivate a lot of elbow grease.
We began the process of hanking on the mainsail (it entails hooking the skinny pointy top end of the sail onto a long line that goes 50’ up the mast and shoving the bottom of it along the boom (the long metal beam that runs parallel to the boat and will knock you senseless or dead if you get in its way – hence the term, boom!) last Sunday. This just happened to be Mother’s Day, about an hour or so after I was released from a hospital for a nasty upper respiratory infection. George was humoring me by letting me recover on the boat because part of the treatment includes a drug that makes rabid pit bulls in Mexican cantinas after midnight appear insipid.
Over the course of the next few hours I scrubbed stainless steel fixtures, oiled the teak, cleaned the fresh water tank, vacuumed cushions, and profusely sweated. Missing the second through fourth steps of the ladder down the companionway and bruising my inner arm from elbow to pit, I finally took a break.
That’s when it dawned on me, we boaters need to remember to invite a bit of Acedia aboard. Acedia is the polar opposite of engagement and activity. It’s topor, a state of “I really don’t get a darn”, or as Generation Xers say, “Whatever.” Acedia is something rare to most Baby Boomers hell-bent on doing things and keeping the fires of interest in the world flaming. There is a risk for boaters who imbibe too much rum in large Tervis tumblers over not enough ice, that an extra dollop of acedia can lead to apathy and a refusal to keep up the pace. But mostly, that’s just a hangover from the too much rum and too little ice that split the main brace the prior evening. Seeing a messy sailboat is more painful than a glimpse of unwashed undies hanging from a clothesline. Keeping a ship shape vessel is a matter of character – and pride. But still, there has to be a limit to all the spitting and polishing that goes along with keeping up good appearances.
I did not see one other female on the river Sunday. Given that most of the women in the harbor are mothers, daughters, and grandmothers – or at least know such a woman, I could understand the lure of having someone else break out the barbeque and dust the brownies. Not me, I was content with my scrubbing. Acedia is often associated with solitude, in the prison cell sense but more like a monk who took a vow of silence because he wasn’t much good company anyway. I’d intended to relax and do nothing – which on a boat generally means doing something.
Mothers by and large aren’t familiar with Acedia whether they are pregnant with neonates or the reigning matriarch of a clan boasting four generations. Motherhood can be lonely (midnight watch during croup season through 30 minutes past curfew) but it’s rarely a solitary experience. Whether your child is nearby, abroad, or resting in heavenly peace there’s always a sense of being entangled together. This is because our children are made of ourselves and when we are separated this weird spooky phenomenon takes place where we stay eternally entangled. We can sense each other’s existence no matter how far separated by distance and time. This entanglement is as real as a mother’s love that knows no boundaries or the way the moon reflects on water.
Once in a while, it’s good to just set a spell, take in the now of simply being on a boat with nothing more to do than realize that as a Mother you’re never alone – but a little quiet acedia makes it easier to hear the joy in your soul.