by Robert P. Barsanti
I have a kayak.
The kayak is a beautiful boat; outfitted with pedals and a rudder, an ocean keel, and two watertight compartments. Once in the ocean, it will glide and keep its line through waves and water.
I haven’t used it in years.
It sits in a shed, safe, bundled, and dry, and it waits for me. It has waited for me through plumbing emergencies, turnovers, and afternoons dedicated to cable companies. Throughout the heat of July and the crowds of August, the kayak glows in the dim sunlight that penetrates the shed and on the bucket list of my mind.
I once was a kayaker. I bungie-corded it to the top of my jeep, waiting for the cast-off moment when I could park in a parking lot, drag the boat through the sand, and paddle out to empty spots under the bright blue. It happened. I have photographs.
In summer, I should have time for kayaking. In June, the summer unrolls before us in a long series of unchecked boxes. Then the phone rings and the boxes fill. There’s work; there are guests; there are projects; there is busy-ness. I find that most of my summer boxes get filled in with waiting for someone else to call, visit, or send something. But I still come to the last week of August with whispered questions and recriminations from the shed.
No work of great pitch and moment has been created. I did not carve a saint into a cathedral, nor did I conquer the Gauls, nor did I cure cancer. Instead, I mowed some lawns, applied some paint, and waited for the subcontractors to arrive. When I look at my phone, I find that I didn’t take any pictures during the month of July. Perhaps there is nothing more damning in the twenty-first century than having nothing to photograph.
I am also a reader, and, like most readers, I have stacks of books. I just finished a book that I bought during Christmas vacation. The rest of the purchases sit in a stack on the porch. I have mysteries, histories, and vital voices for the present. Like the kayak, I have put them in a place where I don’t need to meet their eyes.
For most of the year, I am not the person I want to be, I am the person other people want me to be. Frankly, other people want me to be a better person than I actually am. The guy with the kayak doesn’t go grocery shopping. The man reading in the backyard hasn’t washed the sheets from that house in Tom Nevers, although he could have in between Chapters 33 and 34. The guy in the kayak doesn’t get paid much, lets the cable bill go, and has a lousy credit score. The reader has needed to buy more toilet paper since Friday.
My world, and the world my friends, family, and fiduciary partners live in, is greatly improved by the idling of my kayak. In the time that I could be circling the Jetties, invoices have been made, shopping has been completed, and the chicken breasts have thawed and marinated. I have been the friend and father that everyone wanted me to be. Perhaps, even, I am appreciated.
But the kayak waits.
We are often the people other people wish for. Lifted up in the web of community, we are tugged and hugged by others, and we shape ourselves to be the people they desire. We will get the toilet paper before we need to. We will pay the cable bill the week before it is due, and not after. Everyone we know, who has a strand of that web, will pull us and smile.
Except now. With the pressure of the incoming September in front of us, and the ignored promise of the summer behind us, this week becomes the week when we can drop out of the web. The lawn can grow for another day. Leftover pizza should be good enough for tonight.
In the last week of August, the kayak moans its loudest. It remembers the promises of an afternoon in Coskata, a quick jaunt around the jetties, and even a slow wander through Polpis Harbor. A quiet afternoon paddle in the warm harbor water separates you from the web of the world. The paddles dip, the water spreads, and the boat glides over the rocks, seaweed, and precious eel grass two feet underneath the red keel. The sailboats pass, and wave after they are gone. The ferry rounds Brant Point at the edge of your horizon. On Coatue, you drag the boat up, spread a towel, and lie under the Atlantic blue. Perhaps some reading.
Not forever. Not always. Not even most of the time.
But a life should have solitary moments when it is just Me, Myself, and I. A life should have a moment of stillness when the spark of life lies against the sand and under the sun. A life should claim its moment in the bright blue, before the sea swallows us and the sand grinds our dust. Very few of our moments in the world will be sung in chorus, memorialized in granite, or even remembered in a joke at a bar. Those moments, alone on a beach, next to a kayak, under the maritime sun will not be remembered and remarked on by anyone. Those who miss you know you will be back. Those who love you want you to stay a moment longer.
In the last week of August, as the summer duties fade off into phone messages and the schedule of September begins to tick the boxes, we should choose a moment for ourselves. In that moment, we are enough for the time. We are enough to lie warm and pleasant by a warm sea under a bright sky, and it is enough for us. And in that selfish moment of sun and sand, take the picture of that place where you belong.