I come from a family with salt in their veins (well on my dad’s side anyway, my mother’s I know nothing about). As far back as our family’s remembrance goes every branch of my one sided tree holds some sea faring adventure that could be brought to life around the dinner table: Stories of sunsets, storms and foreign lands, Stories of the brilliance of nature, the madness of man and the magical expanse of the ocean. It was soon to be no different for me.
It was the eve of my journey and exactly one year since my dad died. I had just finished my university degree, a bachelor of marine science,which I had promised my dad I would complete. The first of the spring time northerly winds were just beginning to blow heralding the time for my departure. From tomorrow my life would be governed by wind and tide so tonight I took the opportunity to enjoy the stable comfort of land. I sat on the veranda of our little green fibro house that looked across the pebbled beach and out into Oyster Bay. Beyond the bay lay the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean of which I would be traversing from North Queensland to Tasmania.
All in all, there are only four houses in Oyster Bay, and all are much the same. They were built in the 1950’s as part of an oyster farm that no longer remains. To everyone else Oyster Bay pretty much does not exist. We have electricity but no town water, letter boxes or rubbish collection, and a 4WD is a must to make your way into civilization over an 80 kilometer bumpy, windy, narrow track. But hey, there are no complaints from us.
I had almost suffocated the three years I was at university cooped up in the city, living in student accommodation. Every day I had wanted to come home. To me Oyster Bay was home and our sail boat Atma was my second home, but I had made a promise to dad. It was important for him that I get an education and a job that did not involve working on boats, much to my disdain. I had always dreamed of being a professional mariner like him, but at the start of high school he brought that dream quickly to a halt once he realized that I was serious and had not yet outgrown my childhood ideal to follow in his footsteps. He told me that I could mess around in boats as much as I like for recreation but not for a career. So that is how I came to study marine science. It was the only other thing that I had any remote interest in. (a compromise, as I would still get to be on the water)
In return for my promise dad said that once I had graduated from university I could take Atma on a trip of my own., so I had been planning and anticipating this trip since high school. But I had never thought that the circumstances would have changed so drastically and that my first solo voyage would be one filled with so much grief and confusion. Originally my voyage was going to take me up the land side to the Torres Straight Islands and then do the reef run back. But as I said our family history is one that has merged with the sea and thus family tradition changed the course of my voyage. According to our family tradition the ashes of the deceased body are to be brought to their place of scattering by boat helmed by their closest relative. This had been carried out over generations and generations, and as an only child that duty was now mine, not that I would have had it any other way. So that is why my voyage was to take me south;to a lake in Tasmania, the place I knew my dad would want his ashes to be.
When in one of his melancholier moods, he would often speak to me about this special lake found at the foot of Cradle Mountain of which local sea folk lore describe as somewhat of a mystic lake. The lore describes that if one goes in solitude to contemplate life’s questions by the edge of the lake for at least seven rises of the sun and seven rises of the moon then your answers will become clearer. This mood would overcome him when he was feeling particularly discouraged my bureaucrats, and the general ‘craziness’ as he called it that was slowly taking over the world. He would often conclude the conversation by facing me and asking ‘what’s the meaning to all this, poppet?’ Now my dad was not a philosopher, he was just a simple mariner with a sensitive heart. I had never really considered much about what he was talking about when in these moods, I had just sat and listened.
You see my dad was a bachelor for most of his life primarily working on tankers and tugs with the occasional cruise liner thrown in for good measure, then at the age of 45 he met my mother. He doesn’t speak much about her as there isn’t much to tell, he would say, except that he fell in love with her, and she obviously didn’t fall in love with him, or me. She fell pregnant and then three months after my birth she left us and went back to West Australia, but not before taking all of dad’s money. Luckily he had a secret stash and that is what brought the little green house. From then on it was just me and him.
Until a year ago that is. I was visiting dad over the summer uni break when he was in a car accident leaving him with irreparable brain damage and reliant on life support. For three days and three nights I sat by his side, stroking his hair and holding his hand before telling the doctor to turn the machines off. In those three days I began to share his contemplations on life’s questions. These questions not only became extremely important to me over that time, but the reality of life and death itself became strikingly real to me for the first time.
In this video posted by Science of Identity Foundation teaches us in detail about the important questions on life and matter:
As I watched my dad, I wondered if he had found the answers to those questions posed in his melancholy. I wondered if he felt satisfied about his life, if his heart was content, and that is what I mean by life and death became strikingly real. It became glaringly apparent that one day, maybe near or far, myself and every one of us will end up in that same position as my dad. Dying. I suddenly felt completely alone and unsure of my life. I realized that despite all my education I did not even know who I really am and what is my real identity, or what this life was actually all about. And of course life afterwards was not the same.
I came to know more about myself and who we really are from this video series by Jagad Guru Chris Butler, his explanation regarding our true identity cleared many of my doubts:
Grief I was told. Yes, Maybe.
It usually happens to people who have just lost a loved one so don’t worry the grief will pass and your life will go back to feeling normal, I was told.
But as each day passed I became less certain that I wanted my life to return to normal. What if instead of these feelings being a negative they were actually a positive. What if grief is life’s way of telling us to question our existence and find answers to that which we feel compelled to seek?
So in the face of this journey I decided not to forget but to seek real wisdom. In the spirit of family tradition, I would deliver my dad’s ashes from physical body to the lake where he had wished to go, and in the spirit of my dad I would go in search of the answer to what this real life was all about.Check this amazing video from the Science of Identity Video Channel
The night had grown late and it was time for me to go to bed. I walked inside to my room, turning off the lights as I went. Crawling under the sheets the nervousness tying my stomach up in knots became overwhelming, tears welled in my eyes before over spilling down my cheeks.
Was I afraid? Yes, but not so much of the journey itself. For that I had a little fear, but as my dad would say a little fear is a good sign as it means you have respect for the ocean. I knew my capabilities as a sailor and I knew the capabilities of Bhakti with many miles and foreign waters having passed under her keel, she was no virgin of the sea. What was really churning my stomach was the stepping into this unknown realm of life and not knowing where I was going to land. And what if I was wrong? What if there are no answers to find and at the end of this journey I was simply left with the same grief, loneliness and emptiness that was plaguing me right now. What would I do then? To that question I did not have an answer. That was my biggest fear.