Weight of the World
A moment on the wild waterways
The wind howled, the tall poplars in constant motion; no time to slow and breathe. My hands, one wrapped around the brass tiller, the other pushing the throttle—forward, back, neutral, over and over—were red and icy-cold. The wind, laced with frozen particles, flew across my face. Hard pellets of wetness landed on my eyelashes and cheeks, spreading into smudges in an instant.
“Shall I reverse?” I shouted down to the bow of the boat where Scott was trying to push off from another moored boat with the pole.
“Reverse. Gently! Forward! Wait.” He balanced on the gunwale, showing me hand gestures, waiting to see the effect of the manoeuvres.
We worked together, mostly through eye contact as the wind was so loud we could barely hear one another.
It had come out of nowhere, this hair-raising moment. I had been merrily making a cup of tea in the galley, Scott cruising along, moving our boat to its next mooring, when suddenly I felt a great smack. Twisting my head swiftly to look out of the front window, I saw boats at all angles. The wind had taken us in a split second.
“Babe! Come out!” I heard in the distance.
I legged it down the length of our 65ft narrowboat and outside onto the back deck, hastily grabbing my coat on the way, hopping on each leg as I pulled one trainer on after another. Emerging up through the hatch I took over the controls as Scott shimmied his way down the gunwale.
Other boaters appeared from hatches and cratches, calling out to help us. We managed to throw a rope to the guy on the boat moored behind where we were attempting to pull in. He stood on the towpath, hair under a cap, braces and sturdy boots, unwavering, holding steady and gently pulling. Waiting…as you do when trying to edge a hulk of steel over. And inch by inch, occasionally stopping still as we waited for a break in the breeze, together we brought the boat over until it was level with his. I watched as Scott jumped from our boat onto his roof and over, onto the towpath, gently carrying the rope over their chimney and towards the bow; forward of where we were coming in.
Another lady appeared from her boat and took our front rope,
“She might go again” she called, “I’ll hold on!”
And slowly, between their pulling and my manoeuvring on the back, the boat slipped seamlessly into the space. I breathed a sigh of relief and 30 minutes later when we finally sat in our living room having a cup of tea, the skies blue and the sun pouring in, we wondered if that moment had ever even happened.
But it had, and something else had happened also.
In that nanosecond of life I had stood, watching the tall, lanky poplar trees wildly dancing in the wind, feeling my hands working the heavy controls, the soft sleet landing on my face, listening to the cheerful banter of the boating community—and I had acknowledged that life was happening right there.
I type this up with tears in my eyes. It seems that grief flows in and flows out; never truly leaving. Because some days I recognise life as that moment and I embrace it, and other days I long for time to stand still. A child in my current writing class is weaving a story about a time remote and I think of it now. If only we could stop, rewind, fast forward. Some of the ideas from my kids are profound beyond their years; yet they do not know the power of their thoughts in a broader sense. For me, this idea has stuck.
As stories of young people in the prime of their life dying to disease weave their way into my thoughts, or I become aware of the waves of sickening sadness happening across great swathes of the world, I feel at a loss. I long for that time remote. But life still goes on outside of my window. People still walk. They talk. They laugh.
The strangest moments for me last year were that after losing my mum and niece, the world carried on. The birds still sang with joy, the flowers still grew and bloomed. People still went to work, cooked dinner, watched TV.
How can that be?
But it is.
And right now I’m wondering how much of the world our human bodies are built to take? How can we—as an individual—be of any benefit if we are so ladened with grief that we can barely put one foot in front of the other. Our own grief; the grief of the world that emanates from our screens and speakers. How can we not let it drag us down? For me, it is about being reminded to live in this moment. This moment in our own life. Live it with love, kindness, openness, support. Maybe this is how we build our strength to deal with the pain that has been, and undoubtedly will be, inflicted on our own corner as and when it comes.
I wish I knew how to end this piece of writing, to tie it up in a neat bow. Circle back and conclude succinctly. But life is rarely succinct and right now the overwhelm of personal grief and world grief—in some moments—feels too heavy to carry for so many of us and so I take that moment; that moment on the back of my boat, when the earth was wild and there was nothing I could do, and people helped each other and laughed and lived. I’ll take that, and try to remember to not overload myself, so that I may be of some use to others, in some way.