Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Neither life nor death nor boat trips…

My husband and I are among the strange breed of people known as Birders. We like to watch birds, study birds, learn from them and especially feed them using all our hard earned money.

Most of our vacations/trips are based on birds. Where they are at that time and what’s there determine where we will go. It’s not everybody’s idea of fun but we love the camaraderie of birders and it gives us opportunities to bond, travel, and most times to have fun.

That’s why several months ago, with our 45th wedding anniversary coming up, I decided to purchase two tickets on a pelagic—a deep sea boating trip to spot birds…birds that often live, breed, and die out on the deep open ocean waters and can only be seen there—out of Hatteras on the Outer Banks of NC. I knew it would make my husband happy and it did. And I was glad it made him happy as it gave me a mite bit of trepidation. I swear he was born in the ocean, boat in one hand and fishing pole in the other. Me? Give me land or give me death.

So for months we planned, figuring that the better prepared we were, the easier things would go. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and by gosh, it was going to be perfect!

We pictured ourselves on the bow of the ship—think Titanic movie, which, btw, we have never seen—wind in our hair, arms outstretched embracing the wonder of it all, eyes lifted up to behold the rare birds hovering over our heads. We were laughing and life was good. 

The reality? Hanging over the railing as we hurled whatever was in us into the deep blue sea. All day. ‘Keep your eyes on the horizon and you’ll be fine’ was a lie. When we watched The Big Year with Steve Martin and he found himself in the exact same nightmare, his arch-rival standing next to him saying, “Pitching and tossing, pitching and tossing” I thought it was hilarious. It’s not. Not in the least. 

Sea-sickness = the desire for death. I went down for the count first…my sweet husband strong and well, fetching wet wipes and holding my hand as a lifeline….reminding me I needed to live for the sake of the kids and grandkids and the dogs. 

For a brief, glorious moment, early in the trip, not yet at peak sickness, we sat together on the deck listening to calls going out for one rare bird after another- a White-tailed Tropicbird, Shearwaters and Jaegers, and Petrels, all life-birds for us. When not vomiting, I cheered and applauded along with everyone else. I may not have been at my best but I could still embrace the wonder.

At least until I turned to my pale, sweaty husband and realized he was going to faint, which he did, onto the deck floor. The rest of the trip he had a great relationship with the bottom rung of the railing.

At that point I realized that this was not going to end well. Whereas before he could be strong for me, now I needed to not only be strong for myself, but for him also. I could feel my blood sugar tanking (bad news for a diabetic who couldn’t hold anything down-water and meds included) and my prayers become urgent and passionate. All I had was Christ and at that point I sure hoped He would be enough.

By the time we were told, 8 hours into our trip, that we were finally returning to land…2.5 hours away…I wasn’t sure if I wanted to shout Hallelujah or throw myself over the railing. I took comfort from others who had been through the same thing and yet were alive to tell about it. I did not take comfort from those who for the entire trip stood at the railing, expensive cameras pointed to the sky, joking and laughing like it was the greatest day of their lives. Bless them.

Anyway, we survived. Once the boat docked, I wanted to bend down and kiss terra firma but my legs wouldn’t let me. I think I threw her a kiss instead. As we staggered back to the car and tried not to gag as we drove past the church fish fry we had hoped to attend, we went back to our cottage, wrapped ourselves up in blankets and went straight to bed. Different beds because my husband collapsed horizontally across the big one. Happy 45th Anniversary to us.

The next day found us sitting in the screened-in-porch, still unsteady, slowly sipping coffee, hoping the worst was over. By then I had had time to process what had happened and believe it or not I was happy. Definitely not for the way our anniversary went…I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. No, that I was alive. And my husband was alive. We were survivors, we had survived! Together! While my husband kept apologizing for the disaster, which I assured him was not his fault, I blew his mind by saying I’m glad it happened!

This trip made me realize…

1- What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. When my husband sat next to me, holding me upright, wiping the vomit from my mouth, anchoring me with his hand and words of encouragement, I couldn’t have loved him more…not even if he took me to a 5 star Michelin restaurant. That my friends is love.

2- Marriage will never be a smooth ride. It can’t be. It’s made up of two sinners walking through a broken world together. There will be ups and downs, risings and fallings, tossings to and fro. But once you’ve made the commitment to board the boat and you’re in waters over your head, there’s no option to get off. 

3- Marriage is also full of wonder and take-your-breath-away moments…children, pets, family parties and vacations, homes, gardens, things that you have heard and seen and done that have drawn you closer to one another and the heart of God. All freely given and gifts of greater value than anything you will ever buy…the deep purple color of the Gulf Stream, the intake of breath when seeing a rare bird, Flying Fish sparkling as they jumped over wave after wave. Priceless.

4- You can’t do marriage alone…you not only need others to cheer you on, you need God to give you grace and strength. Every. Single. Day. It’s His way or the highway. And trust me, it’s a rough road without Him. There was one man, Liam, on this trip who, on a previous trip, had spent his entire day at the railing. And he was supposed to be one of the guides! He took one look at us and chose to come alongside us…encourage us, make himself available to us…all because he wanted us to have a good trip in spite of the circumstances. Every marriage needs a Liam. And we need to be Liam to other marriages.

5- A circle of three is strong. Somewhere along the journey you realize that the hard times bond you together and the good times make that bond stronger. There is nothing that can take you down for the count because with God for us, who or what can come against us? I can’t tell you how many times when one of us has been weak, the other has been strong. And when both of us are weak? God will be our strength…a perfect picture of that boat trip. 

6- After 45 years of marriage I would do it all again. And I don’t say this lightly as I now know what that means. Marriage costs. Dearly. It’s not for the faint of heart…the honeymoon is on a limited time basis and after that there is a long, long stretch of life…the beautiful and ugly…the heartbreaking and joyous…laughter, tears, anger, disappointment, boredom, and moments that take your breath away. But somewhere on the journey, you realize there’s nobody you would rather live life with. That be you, Ted.

I confess as I disembarked, I swore that I would never, ever be caught dead on another pelagic. 

But then again, as I was leaving the boat, I heard someone say, ‘Go to Montego Bay in California. There are no waves… it’s smooth sailing and you’ll see all sorts of amazing birds and whales and marine life that you won’t see anywhere else.’

Hmmm…we’ve never been birding in California…