Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Worrying versus having fun (on the Fourth of July)

In Portland, as in many parts of New England last weekend, the Fourth of July festivities took place on July 5th instead, due to a very accurately forecasted hurricane-influenced rainstorm that dominated Friday afternoon and evening.

But my thoughts as we waited for the fireworks show to begin over Casco Bay were less about freedom, liberty and the birth of our nation than they were about apprehension, caution, prudence, and the spectrum that those various emotions seem to cover.

My anxiety was over the fact that a dream of Tim’s was coming true that evening: we had taken my parents’ motorboat out into the harbor to watch the fireworks. And this plan made me extremely nervous. I’m nervous about boating under the best of circumstances, actually. My father, my husband, and my son all greatly enjoy boating and are all confident and adept when handling boats, so throughout my life, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be out on the water. And I’ve been on boats enough times when mechanical failure strikes to feel as if mishaps are more typically the rule than the exception, even though I know that’s not really true. It’s just that the times that something goes wrong are the times that stick in my mind, rather than the many successful and entirely enjoyable boat rides I’ve been lucky enough to experience.

And it’s not like anything really awful has ever happened to me. No tragedies or accidents: just the occasional engine failure. And mostly that was back when we had our own boat; it hardly ever happens on my parents’ boat.

But we’d also never gone boating in the dark before. So as we sat amidst a phalanx of bobbing vessels of all sizes, from cigarette boats to lobster boats to yachts to ferries, waiting for the fireworks to begin, all I could think about was how awful it would be to experience engine trouble late at night, in the dark, after the fireworks.

True, we were hardly alone out there. Dozens of boats dotted the harbor as far as we could see; both the Coast Guard and local police boats passed continually among the revelers. And thanks to the yearly fee my parents pay to Sea Tow, we were assured a tow back to shore any time we might need it.

Moreover, Rick and Tim thought I was being ridiculous to worry. They thought being on the harbor for the fireworks was the most ideal scenario possible. Tim had been pleading for weeks to give this a shot; Rick had finally capitulated when he saw what a warm evening it was shaping up to be and how calm the water was.

“Look at all those people crowded onto the hillside!” Rick said as we sat in the boat looking toward the sloping lawn where the whole city gathers to watch the fireworks. “We could be crammed into that crowd right now! Instead we’re out here on our boat!”

Yes, I thought to myself, but when the fireworks end, all those people need merely rise to their feet and count on their sturdy little legs to carry them home. Their odds of successful transport are close to one hundred percent, as long as they cross at the crosswalks. Ours are a little more dubious.

I wasn’t just being neurotic. We’d discovered water in the engine compartment when we opened up the boat earlier in the evening, and we’d had trouble starting it up then, after pumping it out for ten minutes or so. I had thought this was reason enough not to go out at night. Well, reason enough for me, maybe. Not for the brave and intrepid sea-goers in my family.

“Just enjoy the fireworks!” Tim instructed me as the first few sparklers exploded into the black sky.

“I am enjoying the fireworks,” I replied. “This is fabulous, being out in the harbor for the concert and pyrotechnics.” And it really was. On the boat, we were comfortable, all snuggled together in the bow, rocking gently on the waves with an unobstructed view of the sky. “But I’m also worried about the trip home.”

“Well, if anything goes wrong, you can still remember how much fun you’re having now,” Holly said reasonably.

And she was right. I could worry, or I could enjoy the fireworks. If I let myself have fun, I’d still have good memories even if the trip home didn’t go smoothly.

Actually, the trip home did go smoothly. We made it back to our dock and had an easy landing. The evening was perfect. All four of us had fun and nothing went wrong.

The next day, the engine started acting up again, making our successful evening excursion seem all the more fortunate, but it was manageable. Getting the boat towed to the marina was no trouble at all in the middle of the afternoon, close to shore.

And Holly’s advice stuck in my mind. “Well, if anything goes wrong, you can still remember how much fun you’re having now.” I suppose in a way, that’s the point of doing anything fun. You know it’s not going to last forever, but you know no matter how fleeting it is, you can look back on it later and feel happy all over again.

So I’m glad we went. Anxiety and apprehension may have been more present for me than a sense of celebration honoring America’s birthday, but it was a wonderful Fourth of July – on the Fifth of July – nonetheless. And I learned to maybe be just a little less anxious the next time we go boating after dark.

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