“Does everyone die?”
It’s one of those 3-year old questions that demands a real answer. I’m on watch, holding our autopilot remote in one hand, a chart in the other, and balancing a hot cup of coffee between my knees. We’re sailing south through northern Florida, and the channel here is only 8′ deep and 50′ wide. Stray off the magenta line — even for the few minutes this 3-year old’s question demands — and you’re likely to find yourself hard aground.
“What do you think, baby?” I respond, employing my number one parenting hack (stalling) while eyeing the upcoming turn to starboard.
“I don’t know mommy, that’s why I’m asking youuuuu!” He’s on to me. As I try to put together a decently honest answer, the engine makes that sound. A dip of RPMs, the slight quieting of the rumble that indicates something not good. Shit. If the engine dies now, with the current pushing us towards the bridge ahead and the wind on the nose… what should I do? Throw the anchor in the water? Try to turn around and sail backwards?
Oh right. The 3-year old. It’s an innocent question, a fair one, and I don’t want to just brush him off. I want to tell him that of course everyone dies, and that that’s why we’re out here on this boat in the first place. That’s why we spend nearly every waking hour of every day together — because we know nothing lasts forever.
“Ruhbumbumbum… ruhbumbumbum…” The stupid engine sputters again.
I up the revs, temporarily masking the engine sound, and make eye contact with Jon. “Did you hear that?” he mouths to me. I nod. Sometimes I try to deny it, hoping that maybe if I pretend everything is fine, it really will be. But engine problems scare me. Jon likes to tell the story of the time we played Catchphrase and he gave the clue, “it powers a sailboat” with an assured wink to his wife. “An engine!” I exclaimed, ever the sailor.
20 degrees to starboard. One mile to the bridge. With the positive current, we’ve got half a mile to go before I call the bridge. There are storm clouds building on the horizon. Is it going to thunder on us on top of everything?
“Mommmmmaaaayyyy!!!!” The slight British twinge tells me Zephyr is getting annoyed. He still wants an answer.
The truth is that I think about this a lot — this death thing. That we get just ONE shot (as far as we know, at least) to make the most of our lives. That we don’t know when our time will be up. That you can blink and somehow realize years have passed if you aren’t careful. There’s pressure there, pressure to do and appreciate and make something out of your days. It stresses me out. Which in turn, stresses me out. Nothing more useless than stressing about being stressed about how you’re spending your life.
“Rhum-rhum-rhum” the engine sounds okay again, for now at least. The bridge is only supposed to open on the hour, but if our engine dies and we have to emergency sail through I wonder if he’ll open off schedule for me. I hope my voice doesn’t crack in that stupid way it does when I’m afraid. I see a dolphin and feel a flash of hope — surely my good luck omens wouldn’t swim by right before we smashed into a Daytona bridge, would they?
“Sorry, baby, mommy was distracted.” The sun is streaming through the storm clouds in that special way that looks like maybe angels are descending, and the dolphins leap in our bow wave. I can actually hear them chirping to one another as they surface right beside me — wow, that is so cool.
“That’s okay mommy. Sometimes I’m distracting too, like when I do my distracting dance. Do you want to see my distracting dance? Watch my distracting dance mommy!!!”
I sip my cold coffee as the 3-year old dances, and as the dolphins foretold — the engine does not die today.