I didn't know Sarah Young. And I also didn't know Andrew Ashman, or Michael Johnson. But I know their spirits, I know what drove them. I know why they followed their hearts to the sea. Journeys such as the ones they pursued are those which keep our souls alive. And yet, rendingly, sometimes, they also lead to our deaths. I was saddened by Michael's death, and we mourned him as a community, each of us reflecting back on our own adventures, on our own close calls when we failed to clip in, knowing how very easily it could have been any one of us, with our own families and friends grieving in their losses. But, as it does, life moves on, with or without us.
I didn't hear about Andy's death in September; I only found out about it by way of recent events. But something really strikes a chord in you when you hear your own name, and the words of Sarah's crewmates during her burial at sea ceremony really hit me hard.
Ichorcoal's skipper Darren Ladd said of her, "Sarah was a valued crew member and amazing victualler. On deck she was fearless and could often be found at the bow wrestling with headsails, or up the mast wrestling wrapped spinnakers, even below decks wrestling crew to protect the biscuit ration. She was a great wrestler, never lost a biscuit. Sarah was an adventurer and lived life to the full. She died an adventurer's death battling the elements circumnavigating the globe. I wish we could have said goodbye properly, we all do. The ceremony was for Sarah on behalf of all those that were fortunate enough to know her. Today we said goodbye, but she will always be present in our hearts. Sarah will be sadly missed."
And thinking these thoughts, something changed in me on my run tonight... I know perhaps it's the combination of a lot of things in my life right now: end of my current outdoor ultimate season, the end of the summer season of kayaking, mountain biking, and motorcycling, daylight savings ending and the very changing of the seasons - new smells and breezes and feelings in the air... and somehow, Sarah's death hit me in a strange way. Not in the usual, 'I'm saddened by the loss for her crew, and her family and friends' way, but in a way that made me reflect on where I'm at in life, and where I want to be. Because, by virtue of being alive, I have that ability to do so, and I know that were it not Sarah Young, but another, more familiar Sarah, that was being memorialised, I would hope that others would do the same in my absence.
Endings, whether we're ready for them or not, change us. Successes and failures have similar connotations for me - they give me a chance to, in Jimmy Buffett's words, "Come down to talk to me, when the coast is clear." The end of the season gives me the opportunity to reflect on my failure in not making the World's team and our success in bringing the national championship title back home to Christchurch. Regardless of the actual outcomes of these endings, I am incredibly grateful just for the simple chance to begin anew, to be able to jump feet first into the refreshing Hutt River with friends, to be able to look back on the events that got me there, basking in the last of summer still warming the shallow eddies, and yet also eager to follow the rapids down the inevitably singular temporal dimension of life to new first descents.
For the first time in a long time in my life, I am free - free to slow down if I were to so choose, free to adventure if I choose, free to continue pursuing a path that I've dreamed about for years, free to strive towards completely different goals. Free to set sails and chart a course few have dared dream about. Free to simply dream. And in that freedom... I was fairly flying on my run. I don't know exactly how, but I changed. Not into something new, but into something I used to be, someone I haven't been in awhile. Brought back to my roots, so to speak. Smiling at the high school girls at soccer practice under the bright lights of Avonhead Park, seeing myself in their young, determined faces as they sprinted suicides, seeing my own coaches in the wisened, white-haired figures looking gruff but kind as they presided over their charges, feeling the pride that they feel, knowing that each of their teammates was working as hard as they were, for each other, for the team, for come what may later in the season, and striving for those victories which they could foresee, together, in the future.
And although it's a feeling I've had often of late, only today was that transcribed feeling actually translated into my physical being. I ran on feet that remembered how much work it took to reach new heights. My heart pumped on the scent of a new challenge. My lungs and soul expanded with the joy of new purpose. I had to laugh, because while I cherished and eagerly lapped up the endorphins running through my bloodstream, the only challenge and purpose I was chasing was my newfound freedom in not having any challenge or purpose on a Monday night, but the feeling was intoxicating.
So. Day 1. It starts now. I don't necessarily know what "it" is yet, but I'm stoked to search for it. A donf!
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." -Antoine de St Exupery
“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?” The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?” -Lewis Carroll