My crew mate and I were scraping gnarly red bottom paint off the bottom of our boat and playing a muffled game of twenty questions through our dust masks. As we contorted ourselves to reach under the bottom most planks, I had far surpassed the twenty question limit with no end in sight.
He wouldn’t let me quit. Keep guessing.
Does everyone have it? Yes. (Scrape). Are you born with it? Yes. A soul? No. (Wipe paint flecks out of eyes thanks to useless safety goggles). Can you give it to someone else? No. (crawl along in dirt to find semi-comfortable scraping position). Do you lose it when you die? Yes. But everyone else still has it. Life? No. Emotions? No. Feelings? No.Intelligence? Nope. Senses? No.
I was slowly descending into madness, now holding my scraper uselessly by my side. Had we been playing for minutes or hours? I began just guessing random words, consumed by stubbornness at this point. He offered a final clue: It’s my biggest fear.
LOSS OF FREEDOM! I yelled this triumphantly, having never been more sure of anything in my life up to that point.
No. Agh. This game. Are you sure it isn’t loss of freedom? Yes. What words were left? I stared helplessly around the boatyard when it finally hit me. My neurons fired up and took a final shot – is it Time?
(mini celebration dance)
He told me he was afraid he would not have enough time to experience all the things the world had to offer. Maybe it was the toxic paint fumes in the air or the National Geographic crew filming the boat next to us that made me feel giddy about this answer. I felt like someone else could relate to something I think about a lot. We talked about how sometimes it’s overwhelming to be a dabbler and have a constant curiosity about the world.
Two years ago, I didn’t even know hospital clowning or sailing tall ships were a thing. I was passionately pursuing comedy and theater in Chicago until I went through sort of a broken- hearted phase which found me on Craigslist, searching the “gigs” section for something new. I answered an ad to volunteer on a sailboat because it sounded like something that scared me in that good way that comedy had not for awhile. I knew then that my life was about to change and it did. I even wound up in a Moroccan orphanage wearing full clown gear that same year and swimming with sharks in the Virgin Islands. Now I’m in New Jersey, putting a boat back together with some of the loveliest people imaginable.
We had also talked about how dabbling means you don’t ever get really good at any one thing. I thought about people from other lives I’ve lived who are becoming pros in their fields- comedy friends are writing for Colbert and Peace Corps friends are building hospitals in Nepal while I am now a deckhand on a sailboat. I envy their discipline sometimes and could probably benefit from a little more of it. But somehow, it all makes perfect sense. I have very little money, which is unlikely to change anytime soon but I’m happy. I made my mom my power of attorney and she likes to joke about how big her burden is-How can I put it on her to make those kinds of decisions about my assets?! Who would get my journals and who would get my rig knife, which up to this point in my life, is probably the coolest thing I own. I don’t envy her that chore, should I meet an early demise.
As we cleaned up for the day, I looked around at the crew and realized how different all our paths were to get here but how it was probably the right time for all of us to be in the middle of nowhere, New Jersey, fixing up our boat together. I’m not sure when we will start sailing or even what I will be doing tomorrow but I think I am learning that is the beauty of time. Using it fully while never knowing how much there is.