Kathy Rabin shares a defining moment of victory in her life with CFS.
Defining Moments Essay: Maine Morning
By Kathy Rabin
As I awaken I can feel the boat beckoning. Standing on the porch of the old cabin and looking out through the pine trees, I see it: a little yellow Sunfish, bobbing on the mooring in front of the dock. Yesterday, our first day here, my friend Rob had lugged it out of the boathouse and we’d taken it for a brief spin around the lake. But he’d done most of the work—rigging it and hoisting the sail—and most of the sailing as well. I’d taken a brief turn at the tiller, but even then, Rob had held the sheet.
I’d been timid—heading up into the wind to steady us whenever the sail filled and the boat heeled over. Rob teased me. “Fall off, you wuss!” he yelled, trimming the sail to counter my cautious moves at the helm. In response to his teasing, I handed the tiller back to him and just sat in the small cockpit, savoring the sensation of the wind and sun on my face and the swish of the boat as it sliced through the water.
Today Rob left early, driving into town to work, and it’s just me and the boat. I haven’t sailed by myself in a long time, not since the onset of CFS 10 years ago. Not since that otherwise unremarkable summer day when I got what I thought was the flu and never got better. I haven’t sailed, biked, skied. Just a few of the losses among many others that came along in the wake of my illness.
I eye the water and weigh the pros and cons of venturing out by myself. In past years, I wouldn’t have even considered it. But, although I was afraid to acknowledge it for fear of tempting fate, it seemed as though my symptoms had been gradually, almost imperceptibly, abating over the last year or two. I wasn’t well by any means—I was still unable to work and still spent many of my afternoons on the couch or in bed—but I wasn’t quite so sick as I had been in the early years of my illness.
I eye the lake again. It’s really just a pond, I muse, a couple of miles long at the most and maybe only a half-mile or so across. And the wind will do most of the work, I tell myself. Heck, I’m going for it, even though I know I will likely pay a price for my recklessness. I swim out to the mooring and pull myself into the boat. Although Rob had left the rigging in place, I nonetheless have to hoist the sail. It’s weighed down by the metal boom and spar and heavier than I expected. My arms have weakened during long years of idleness, and I can’t seem to budge it. I’m about to give up and head back to the dock to read. But then, positioning my legs and using my body weight for leverage, I lean back. Miraculously, the tension on the halyard begins to ease. The sail takes shape as I continue to pull the halyard over the top of the mast. I cleat it, untie the painter, and I’m off. Well—off the mooring, anyway.
The boat spins around in circles for a few minutes while I try to get my bearings. I can’t figure out where the wind is coming from, even though I’d carefully noted its direction before leaving the dock. I start to drift and the daggerboard becomes tangled up in tall weeds growing in the shallow water near the shore. I get out and walk the boat back into deeper water. Then I swim, holding the painter, tugging the boat behind me. I think about how ridiculous I must look and can’t help but smile. Clearly not the textbook way to sail off a mooring. Luckily, it’s a quiet morning and there is no one else out on the water to witness my incompetence.
When safely away from the shore, I haul myself back into the boat and sit in the cockpit, holding the tiller loosely. I close my eyes and turn my head, looking for the wind. As the boat begins to head up, I feel it on my face and push the boom out to the side, catching just enough of it to swing the boat around. I trim the sail, and then, I’m sailing. Solo. Just me and the boat and the quiet breeze that gently, seemingly effortlessly, pulls us forward.
Heeding Rob’s advice of yesterday, I head upwind first, navigating the narrow channel between the shore and a small island across from the dock. There’s just enough wind to tack and I practice a few times, pushing the tiller away from me, and then switching to the other side of the cockpit as the boom swings across. It comes back to me easily—a surprise after all these years. Given a little time, my body relaxes into the familiar moves and remembers what to do, even while my mind struggles to catch up.
After about 20 minutes or so of tacking, zigzagging across the small channel, I round the island and reach more open water. Although the wind was light near the cabin, here there’s a strong, steady sea breeze, even though we’re inland. The water is rougher out here, too, and I see occasional whitecaps surfacing ahead of me.
As I head toward the center of the lake, the sail catches a strong gust, causing the boat to lurch forward and heel over sharply. I hike out, using my weight to counter the wind, and then, suddenly, I’m flying, and I laugh out loud from the sheer exhilaration of it. It’s just me and the boat. Me and the boat, the wind and sun, the blue of the sky and water, and the green of the surrounding hills. Me and the boat and that thrilling sensation of speed that I’d long ago given up on ever feeling again. It’s a beautiful summer morning on a lake in Maine, and I’m sailing and laughing and crying all at the same time.
Kathy Rabin was trained as a lawyer but, because of her illness, she no longer practices law. She lives in Massachusetts.
To read more Defining Moments essays, visit http://www.cfids.org/makinghistory/default.asp.
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