The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
When I was a little girl, the poem “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear was one of my favorites. I was enthralled by this story of an owl and a pussycat taking off to sea. I loved the illustrations, the way the owl and pussycat looked at each other, the adoration in their eyes, their smiles, and the colorful vistas they embarked upon. The unknowns of their journey, and the surprises along the way swept me into their world. I wanted to live their adventure and love story. I wasn’t quite sure what “mince and slices of quince” were – or for that matter a “runcible” spoon, but the idea of sailing off by the light of the moon for a long time, without a destination, seemed like a dream come true.
There is a magazine called “Departures Magazine” It’s glossy cover depicts gorgeous places anyone would want to visit. But there are different kinds of “departures,” some are inspiring and life changing, and some are protracted, messy and painful.
I grew up outside of Boston and dreamed of coming to live in New York City. When I was 19, I did that. My desire to leave my hometown was seeded in my very young self, and my maps were found in the words of books and scenes of movies, which grew my sense of wonder about a bigger world I wanted to play in. My miserable, depressed teenage years drove me to want to find myself away from the suburbs of Boston.
I’ve lived in historic and famous New York City neighborhoods. Regardless of my financial situation, creating a home that becomes my sanctuary, has been my highest value. I’ve been fortunate to have lived in Greenwich Village, Park Slope, The Upper East Side and Beekman Place. I’ve lived in the foothills of the Connecticut Berkshires in a home I dreamed of, and gave up when I recognized it didn’t serve the vision I had for my future.
But as much as having a “home,” anchors me, I love to journey. Departure is an interesting word. It means to leave – but it does not imply a destination. The kind of adventures I have sought have taken me away from what I have “owned” and “planned” and have launched me into uncertainty and curiosity; an elixir I drink with both trepidation and thrill. But as I look back, my many “trips” were not always departures, they were sometimes arrivals. My life has been staked by two kinds of travelling, the “discovery journeys” I’ve taken inward, and those where I have set out for, in search of learning about what lies outside myself.
I am not exactly sure how “world traveler” is defined. I have visited 30 overseas locations and 30 of the 52 United States. There are so many more places on my wish list. I am praying I’ll get to see them. I did not write “planning to see them.” because after this past year, in which a pandemic, like a world war, changed the world again – I have been careful not to say, “I’m planning….” Now, I am praying I will do things, go places and have experiences.
Plans come with expectations. The best memories I have are those where the plans crumbled and what emerged were amazing and unexpected surprises. My earliest memory of that when I was in Israel. I was 14. It was 1972 and travelling on a teen tour. My boyfriend and I smoked strong hashish in an orange grove outside of Haifa. We didn’t realize it was Friday night, and at sundown, the start of the sabbath would mean there were no busses or taxis to get us back to our town. We started hitchhiking. In hindsight this was quite dangerous. We were high, and scared. We didn’t speak Hebrew or Arabic. Someone who didn’t speak English stopped. He was yelling at us. I am assuming something about our being irresponsible. Fortunately, we knew the name of the town where we were staying, and he got us there. We could have easily been kidnapped, never to be seen again. But luckily, we got back safely. Afterward, we laughed about it and felt a certain kind of bravery- maybe conquest. The takeaway was the we did it, we journeyed outside the plan and made our own adventure.
When I met the man who would become my first husband, he had just become a certified scuba diver. This was both an exciting and terrifying idea. Drowning was one of my greatest fears, but I pushed myself to learn, so we could dive together. This is a sport that demands much of its participant. There’s a requirement to know some science, the rules, and the absolute need for discipline, inner peace, and a level head. Anxiety and diving are a dangerous pairing. Unexpected things that can happen under water that will prove your ability to save your own life- or die. The sport requires you to have a “buddy.” Your “buddy” can’t hear you, or really speak with you, but there are hand signals that are universally used by divers. Sometimes your “buddy” has a different dive plan than yours- which is not supposed to happen.
On the dive that would be my last, I started out shaky. Before my descent I gave the hand signal, and we agreed that my “buddy” who was my husband, and the dive master would explore the caves below us. I stayed above the caves and watched for their bubbles. When I started feeling I couldn’t comfortably continue the dive, I aborted the plan and started to ascend. I was not panicking, yet. I kept my mind focused on the practicality that drove me upward. It wasn’t safe for me to stay down. I was able to make my 10-minute safety stop. Which is required to ‘off-gas’ nitrogen before reaching the surface. It is one of the first learned requirements of the sport. One must have the control to remain suspended in the water, 15 feet below the surface for at least 5-10 minutes. Right above me, as I hung there, unsure of where I was exactly in relation to our boat, I could see the small waves’ sunlit silhouettes. Watching them dancing in the sun made me peaceful in a strange way. My mantra: I had to make it back to my 2-year-old son. Wherever Alan was, he had no idea where I was. I was alone and adrift atop a relatively calm open ocean. I couldn’t see our boat, had to pick a direction and start kicking. It helped to have fins. By some true act of divine intervention, I was kicking in the right direction, but I had to go very far, against a strong current. Finally, far off on the horizon, I saw something. I thought was a boat. It didn’t have to be our boat- any boat would have been fine.
It was our boat. By the time I reached the ladder I grabbed onto it, heaving for air. I was exhausted. I lay on the deck. After hundreds of dives, I knew as I recovered from my unexpected haul, I would likely never dive again. The failed mission of this dive was a symbol. It was clear to me, like lightening striking, many of the issues I had experienced in my troubled marriage were characterized in that truth: our dive plans were so divergent, our union was destined to end. That was a long time ago. I don’t miss diving. I loved it. I don’t miss my former husband. I loved him. I saw some of the most unspoiled, beautiful reefs in the northern hemisphere, and the gift of that marriage was the son I cannot imagine my life without.
As captain of my my seaworthy vessel, (my beautiful pea green boat) I changed course, and many years later, I was remarried. In 2011, my husband and I, like the owl and he pussycat, sailed off to Italy, Turkey and the Greek islands, where we were married. A little planning went into it, but less than you might imagine. We sailed by the light of the moon, married atop a Greek Island, and then dined (not on mince and slices of quince) in a beautiful vineyard.
While I never dived again, I continued to travel. Jim and I had planned a few trips for the year the world halted. We cancelled all of them. In April of 2020 “the pandemic” beat down on me, and the walls of our small New York City apartment were closing in. Within the city, there with nowhere to “go.” I had to get out. I rented a lake house in northwest Connecticut where we had just recently sold our country home. I stayed two months and after a brief return to the city, I felt the calling to move closer to my parents and son. This was not a difficult departure. It was so clear to me. I was moving toward joy. Before March 12, 2020, when the office where I worked closed, I was an admitted “responsibility junkie.” A wise life coach once cautioned me to keep the balance between joy and duty in my life. My happiness hung dangerously compromised without making the conscious choice.
I was born under the sign of Cancer. I love being near the water. I love beaches and trails that lead to ponds. I love seeing the treasures that wash ashore. It is here on Cape Cod, I can walk for miles, watch the moons rise and the suns set and feel more in the moment than anywhere. I can breathe here, and listen to birds, waves and silence. I can discover places I haven’t seen and never tire of it. I can remember being little and coming here summer after summer playing in the sand and water. I miss wearing my nice clothes and going out. I miss the theater and concerts and eating great food. I wonder when and if my life will ever be that life again. But it is here, where my parents have grown older and while now in place, will journey to the end of their lives, that I have discovered something grounding about returning to this familiar place of my childhood.
It was serendipity when, recently, in the height of the summer, I found a room in an old farmhouse, (inn) on Martha’s Vineyard and booked it. Jim came from the city, and we set out on foot – via the ferry –and hopped a ride to the outer island. The locals call it “up island.” This is where many famous people live. Their homes are hidden in the thick greenery and hundreds of acres of rural country. If you know what you are doing, this is where some of the most beautiful beaches, cliffs and trails are found. No crowds, almost nowhere to eat, just miles and miles of country and stone walls and the clay cliffs and surf that set my heart free. We had no plans, no idea of what each day would bring or where we would go, we just figured it out- got a bus map, met fascinating people, laughed, and walking back from a beach trail in the dark one night, just hoping one of the bus drivers would stop for us. And she did.
10 years after we married, as we were sitting without anyone else on that Martha’s Vineyard beach, watching the sunset, I remembered my beloved poem and the dream I had, which came true. A decade since we had set sail, we were still holding hands by the light of the moon.
Departures are not easy for most people, and I won’t say they are easy for me. But there is something incredibly freeing about hoisting the anchors and setting sail into the unknown.
If I have learned anything it is that we are promised nothing in this life. Usually what we leave behind, shows us the way forward. Each day is a gift. I have tried to learn the difference between fear and danger. Danger can seriously harm you. Fear can only harm you when you allow it to stop you from sailing the seas of your dreams. If you believe it, uncertainty can be boundless.