I never wanted a seagoing boat before — until I saw it at the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. This one showed up on the beach at Texas’ Padre Island National Seashore, where I was camped out in my tent. Actually, it showed up where I had originally planned to pitch my tent, up the beach a few dozen yards, before I got nervous about the forecast high tides and reconnoitered, relocating to a higher, more protected spot. So that when I unzipped my tent that next foggy morning, and looked out at my original campsite with what appeared to be a thirty-foot sailboat beached right in the middle of it, I was stunned…and thrilled. As if this boat had come back to me, like a dog gone astray, searching to be reunited with its master.
The day before, I’d avoided wading in the surf, having seen multiple jellyfish washed ashore. I didn’t want to get stung. But this morning, I splashed out into the waves without a moment’s hesitation to greet this beauty, my arms wide for balance but appearing to ask, along with my lovesick grin, Where have you been all my life?
Her name was the Fin of God, a terrible name for a boat, tempting fate by involving God directly in an enterprise where one might wish to remain anonymous, so you could just skate by that whole “wrath of” aspect. But no.
Fin had been boarded by the US Coast Guard on January 29, 2021, presumably checking for persons in distress…or survivors. Black spray paint on her cabin noted “USCG” and “OK” and the date, though I might question that definition of “OK.” Her hull had a scraped gash right at the waterline on the bow. Her mast listed terribly, the sail hanging in shredded tatters from the rigging. One window of the glassed-in pilothouse was propped open like an escape hatch.
I’ve had my share of fixer-uppers — an old house, an old jeep. Rescue animals for pets. Several relationships. My hands were itching to make repairs, see what could be salvaged. Not any kind of a sailor — ever — nonetheless, I could see this boat was just my speed — older style, with beautiful lines, good bones, sleek and lean and ready to break down and dash your hopes just when you needed her.
I wanted to climb on board like a pirate, claim the Fin right then and there, and find a way to set sail. Deep in my heart, I had fallen in love at first sight. Because she represented a freedom so huge, so truly vast, that my inner wayfarer got all sappy and dizzy just trying to imagine it. I laughed out loud as I circled her hull in the shallow water, which I now recognize as this part of myself that walks the nearest plank for the thrill of jumping into the deep end of life. But why not: captivity is the alternative.
I was delighted on my return trip to Padre Island two weeks later to find my beautiful Fin still hopelessly beached, her motor’s fan blades stuck in the sand like an anchor. During my time away, someone had brought more black spray paint, rechristening her first the S.S. Minnow, an obvious if unimaginative choice, followed by the far more accurate Redneck Candi. She could not have caused more unrealistic drooling for those of us of the rural, got-a-tow-strap, how-big’s-your-old-boat-trailer set if she had been Dr. Pavlov. Or a gourmet chef. So much unrequited love. Or hungry anticipation. Whatever.
I will admit that I was sad not to be able to take that beauty home, nor to find a way to join her on the beach, seemingly forever at the rate she was moving. I left Padre Island after the annual Billy Sandifer Clean Up Day, watching wistfully as she receded into the distance behind me, while I kept traveling on.
It was one of the Friends of Padre who helped organize the clean-up, Jeff Wolda, who asked me a few weeks after I left, “You ever find out what happened to that boat?” I reviewed the few facts I knew, including that she was originally from Delaware, of all places, then asked, “Why — do you know?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied, quite pleased with himself. I instantly felt a pang of longing for my beloved, broken Fin, a millisecond of jealousy that Jeff might have somehow taken her, all followed by eagerness to hear her story, at last.
“It was after the clean-up day, and I saw a bunch of people gathered around the boat, more people than usual,” he began. “Apparently, the guy who owned it had come back to claim it.
“The story goes,” Jeff continued, “that he was sailing back to the US from South America when the mast broke in a storm. He went over the side, and was picked up by a Russian trawler. After a month on the trawler, he was able to fly back home — to Austin. There, he got a call from the National Park Service, who had traced the boat back to him. So as soon as he could, he came down. He was busy draining the diesel out of it, when I drove past. Had a salvage crew coming to take it apart and get it off Padre. He was taking care of it, getting it all cleaned up.”
I thanked Jeff for the story. Goodbye to Fin, alias Redneck Candi, now finally boat salvage. Via con dios. Go with God, Fin. I’ll always remember you, my bold camp robber. Somewhere, there’s a boat out there with my name on it, waiting to sail off into just such a wild adventure.
My son is in law school. He sent me some materials he’d gotten from a seminar on incorporating your values into your career goals. He sent the materials — PDFs — by email. Nine months ago. I finally looked at them today.
I’d talked with him by phone at the time, of course, about what he’d gained, lessons learned. Namely this, which he had also spelled out in the email, if anyone was interested in reading it:
“What are values?” You may ask. DEFINITIONS INCOMING!
Values: principles or qualities intrinsically valuable or desirable.
Values: basic fundamental beliefs that guide/motivate attitudes and actions.
Values: self-maintained personal standards rooted in your emotions.
Check out this last one – rooted in your emotions.
When you find yourself in a situation where you are compromising your emotions, you are probably going to feel tension.
When you find yourself in a situation when someone else or society is devaluing/ignoring one of your values, you are probably going to feel tension.
And by “tension,” I of course mean feel a strong, emotional response.
This was just the rocket science I needed to start to figure out why I am constantly flabbergasted.
Ex: I value accessibility (esp. of information) and accountability. When unable to find basic information about how the school operates (say, the role/power of the Board), this might be a minor irritation to some people. Because it is at odds with my values, I find this incredibly frustrating. My response is much more severe. Maybe I also have a limited ability to regulate my emotions. BUT. This might be a tool to build in some of that self-awareness.
He shared this two months before I quit my job. During the COVID-19 pandemic. And he was spot on.
As I finally opened the PDFs, I recognized one as a knock-off of the Values Sort created by William Miller in the early 2000’s that I used in my previous work as an addiction counselor. Presented with a list of 30 values like “Accuracy” and “Efficiency” and “Security,” you’re supposed to choose your top 10, then narrow that list to your top five. Maybe see if you can order that top five to identify your strongest-held value. The one that might really set you off if it was violated or ignored.
For the longest time, “Freedom” had been my personal chart-topper. But, reflecting on why I left my last job — hell, left my former career when I walked — I see that Freedom is only one of the values I was holding dear.
I’d had ridiculous amounts of freedom on that job. But me, as a person — I didn’t matter. Nobody really knew me. And nobody seemed to care about that. Except me. It bothered me, to find myself once again an outsider, an all too familiar role.
For over a year, I’d been expressing my concerns about ethical issues. “Ethical” — that’s surely in my top five. I had forgotten how strongly I feel about ethics violations until I found myself painted into untenable corners. By people half-listening, and then ignoring me. I felt tension. And by tension, I mean strong emotions. I mean constantly flabbergasted. Incredibly frustrated. Maybe it’s no big deal to other people, but for me, it was a big deal breaker.
On the flip side of my love song to Freedom, was R-E-S-P-E-C-T, a tune I hadn’t heard in a while. Which makes sense, when you think about it, this reflection around an axis of symmetry. It’s a Jim Crow kind of feeling, the freedom to sweat and ache through all the work, as long as you bow down and do like we tell you. Who do you think you are, acting like you’re somebody.
Except, I am somebody.
I know…the Jim Crow reference makes you squeamish, coming from me, from me-not-a-Black-person. Except I’m supposed to be trying to empathize, am I not? How do I empathize without comparing your experience to my own? Searching for feelings like yours? I don’t think Empathy is in my top five at work; it feels like too big a stretch, when I’m just shooting for basic Respect at this point.
“Trust.” That’s become huge. And all of these words become part of “Personal Connection,” which isn’t even a choice in the values sort. “Friendliness” is, but that doesn’t mean the same thing. The unethical people were very friendly. And very disappointing. In that “mmm, that seems illegal” kind of way.
That’s why I’ve been taking “Adventure” out for a test drive for the past six months. It’s rising through the ranks pretty quickly. Making me feel pretty cocky.
So now, the PDF exercises, using my new list of values.
What is the meaning or purpose of life?
● What is the relationship between the individual and others?
● Where do family, country, and the rest of the world fit in?
● Is there a higher power, God or something transcendent, and if so,
what impact does this have on your life?
● What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace and
strife in your life?
This is a seminar hand-out?? This has been the work of a lifetime, for me, and I can still only take a weak stab at an answer.
The purpose of life…is to live it. The relationship between the individual and others…is indistinguishable. Which we never, ever remember, try as we might. Or don’t try as we might. Family, country, the rest of the world…see indistinguishable. These are just degrees of self, degrees of otherness, hair-splitting in the grand scheme of things. I was one of the unethical bureaucrats until I quit my job, after all; then I became one of the irresponsible slackers for which my generation is known, and rightly proud of, I say. I love my family, and they all make me crazy. And I make them crazy. And we’d all kill for each other. It’s insane. A microcosm of the world, where toddlers with markers scribble all over maps, defining territory. But they’re so adorable. But they scream so loud if you try to take the markers. Is there a higher power? Noticing. Giving attention is like a blessing. The impact of being noticed in my life has been pleasant for my ego, affirming for my values. The impact of me noticing others has humbled and changed me. And then I find myself thinking, Fuck you.
What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace and strife in my life? That is my life.
That’s your life, too.