Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Raft Up: Fear

A bolt of lightning = a bolt of fear for me
My grandmother was a fearful person and famous in our family for worrying.  If we were late arriving for a visit, the cause wasn’t simply that we were delayed in traffic.  Undoubtedly we had gotten into a serious wreck, or gotten lost in a dangerous area of town and been attacked, or (who knows?) washed away in a flood or struck by lightning or eaten by dinosaurs.  She gets a by on this fear: there are family stories about how she was smuggled across WWI Europe as a nubile teenager, along with her brothers and sister.  I don’t doubt that the things she saw and experienced in those days earned her the right to nightmares.

My mother, therefore, grew up with a mother who was always, always, looking over her shoulder and imagining that bad things had happened/were happening/were about to happen to her family.  So, growing up with that kind of discomfort, no matter how much she worried about her kids’ safety when we ran around exploring, she swallowed her own fears, put on a brave face, and did her best to make sure that my brother and I grew up with a healthy respect for the world, but without being saddled with that kind of phobia.  Her sacrifice worked extremely well; when we first moved aboard and started voyaging, I had, perhaps, rational concern for the power of nature, and concern about the logistics of being far from home, but no fears about our new lifestyle.

Ah, innocence that did not last long!  I did not remain a fearless WonderWoman sailor.  So here’s the catch.  I was also the kind of kid who only had to touch the hot stove exactly once to learn caution.  As kids, we could explore our world, try just about anything, imagine scenarios and how we’d act in them, make mistakes and learn from them.  The only thing that wasn’t okay with our parents was to make the same mistake twice.

I loved watching the terrible beauty of thunderstorms when we lived in Colorado, what my friend Nancy called the “land of passionate weather” – no gentle misting rain here, but blizzards in winter and thunder in summer.  But we lived in a sturdy old house on the plains, and any bad weather looks better from the vantage point of a sofa and viewed through a pane of glass!

My first thunder-and-lightning storm at sea was indeed terrible beauty:  it was July 4 and the Independence Day fireworks displays were puny compared to Mother Nature’s.  Lightning crackled 360 degrees around us (somehow, magically, we weren’t hit) and tossed shimmering phosphorescent green water around us and over the bow.  I wasn’t scared during the event, but was awed.

My second big thunderstorm experience occurred at anchor in North Carolina on what was supposed to be a peaceful night, and it’s the one that really changed my outlook.  It was one of only two times that our anchor failed to hold as lightning crashed around us and a tornado or microburst pushed us into the shallows.  (The only other time our anchor dragged was also in a thunderstorm, do you see a pattern here?)  Dan processed that storm as one of many things in life that you cannot do much about, so just have to deal with when it happens.  For me, though, that storm was my hot-stove moment, some kind of nautical PTSD.  I’m just too acutely aware, now, of how small our boat really is, and how we’re sitting right at the bottom of a lightning rod disguised as a mast, and how strong the winds can be. It’s not a crippling phobia, I don’t shiver under the bunk the way our dog did during storms or fireworks, but still, I seem to react disproportionately.  Years later, and as little as a 20% or 30% chance of storms in the forecast is enough to get me going.  When gray clouds start to build, I (as chief navigator and weather forecaster of Team Cinderella) will take us miles out of the way to a secure anchorage or marina, where we can both observe the storm as I prefer – through a pane of glass.

Click on the monkey's fist to read others bloggers on this topic.
The Monkey's Fist

No comments:

Post a Comment