Don’t ‘just do it.’ Do it right now.
Special to Stars and Stripes October 13, 2023
“Anyone ready for a sandwich?” Fred asked, prompting me to wonder, “Is he completely insane?!” I was on Fred’s old, wooden 27-foot sailboat, and not only was I too seasick to think of food, I didn’t understand how any of our four-person crew could eat anything while the boat was drastically heeled over in 30-knot gusts with waves splashing over the bow into our faces.
But sure enough, a male crew member scrambled below deck to retrieve the plastic bag containing chicken salad sandwich wraps from a cooler sloshing around in a foot of bilge water, handing them to the other two men while steadying himself against the skewed companionway. He offered one to me, but I waved him off with a sickly smile.
I was amazed at how the three men ate their sandwiches with one hand, while managing the sheets, lines and tiller with the other. I hoped my seasickness would subside so I could eat something, too, because we were only an hour into a round-the-island race, with four more hours to go.
My job as “runner” was first and foremost to not screw anything up, something a novice sailor like me does often. Secondly, I was assigned to release or tighten the backstays during tacks and jibes, and to keep my weight on the high windward side with the rest of the crew. In the small cockpit, that meant essentially wedging myself between two grown men (one of whom I’d only met on the docks that morning) while we propped our feet on the edge of the leeward bench and held onto the windward gunwale.
With at least 16 of the 18-mile racecourse to go, I was already soaked to the bone, queasy and awkwardly spooning men eating chicken salad sandwiches in driving wind and rain. My thighs were beginning to shake from holding myself upright in the heeling cockpit, and I dreaded having to urinate while squatting over a bucket below deck when nature called.
“Why on Earth am I doing this?” I silently asked myself, but the answer came easy. Simply put, I’d always wanted to sail, and at age 57, I’d finally been given the chance. After decades of putting my own interests aside to focus on our military family, nothing — not my rapidly advancing age, my joint pain, my husband’s career, my work obligations, my 20 pounds of excess weight, my peri-menopausal hormones, my lack of sailing knowledge — nothing was going to stop me now.
At dusk, while taking the best hot shower of my life, I winced remembering the mistakes I’d made during the race. If only I’d started sailing when I was younger, I’d know so much more now. I’d be so much more capable if I’d done this a long time ago, when my knees still had cartilage and my bladder was still reliable.
I’d waited until my husband transitioned out of active-duty Navy service before I seriously pursued my long-time interest in sailing. Back when our three kids were little, I occasionally took weekend dinghy sailing lessons at Norfolk Naval Base’s Sailing Center, but I didn’t fully commit because I was managing our military family.
At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing, but 28 years of active-duty military life later, I’ve realized that I made a mistake. By waiting, I missed out on years of learning, adventure and self-fulfillment that would’ve benefited me immensely today.
Now, I’m an old dog with gray roots, achy joints and a paunch, trying to learn a new trick. I’ll make the best of it, no doubt, but I’ve learned that there was no need for me to put my interests aside in order to be a “good” military spouse. In fact, the happiest military spouses strike a healthy balance between family dedication and personal fulfillment.
Always wanted to take flying lessons? Learn to play the drums? Try stand-up comedy? Brew craft beer? Body build? Take EMT classes? Learn plein air painting? Do woodworking? Try Irish step dancing? Join a volleyball team?
Don’t wait until the work-ups, deployments, PCS moves, child-rearing and instability of military life is over. Just do it, and do it now.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org