There was once a man who had dreamt of being a fisherman for as long as he could remember. All his forefathers had been fisherman and there was a hefty amount of pressure on him to continue the tradition. But more than that he knew he was born for the sea; those dark murky depths, the salt seasoning his lips, the freedom of being away from civilisation.
The only problem was, he had suffered from anxiety since he was young. As soon as he felt like a situation had grown out of his control his chest tightened, his stomach began churning like a violent tempest and his breath became short and sharp. And every time he went out on his boat, as soon as it left the safety of the harbour the slightest nudge of a bigger wave sent him into a spiral of anxious worry.
So he very rarely left the harbour, except for days with clear blue skies and no wind, which were few and far between, and even then he couldn’t shake an undercurrent of worry within him. As you can imagine fishing in a busy harbour brought him very little luck, and more than his fair share amount of jeers and laughs.
He’d constantly agonise over his crippling limitation and always came up dry. Always on the verge or resigning himself to the fact that he might not be cut out for the sea life after all, then vehemently denying it, insisting to himself there must be a solution, rescuing himself from the depths of despair, but never able to pull himself back up to the surface, here merely floated below looking up at a bright sky filled with hope he could never quite reach.
One day while he was sat in his boat, unsuccessfully fishing in the harbour as was his routine, he heard a voice. He turned around and was shocked to see a young woman rowing up to him in a small dingy. He stumbled to his feet and immediately began to help her moor her little boat to his and helped her aboard.
Just as he was about to ask her what she thought she was doing rowing up to a strangers boat out of the blue, she beat him to it. By asking what he was doing fishing in the harbour. There was something about the girls wild, sincere face that made the truth slosh from his lips like white foam floating on the brine.
When he’d finished he waited expectantly for the usual laugh, snort, jeer, sneer, snide comment, pity etc. that he’d all heard before. But it never came. She fixed him with a look of genuine perplexity, like she was searching for a ship on the horizon she wasn’t sure was there but expected to be. Then she found it.
She took the befuddled sailor by the hand and floated him over to a bench and sat him down, she then asked him for a favour; to “close your eyes and trust me”. He was about to point out he didn’t even know her name, let alone enough to trust her, but the words were lost in a tide-pool and all he could do was nod queasily. She grinned at him and waited for his eyes to reluctantly close.
Next thing he knew the engine roared and the boat began to rock. He wanted to shout out, to jump up, eyes snapping open and beg her to stop. But then he heard a quiet, kindly whisper in his ear “it’s okay”, her breath was warm and comforting in his ear. And he stayed still, eyes closed, anxiety beginning to build but being kept at bay by her simple yet overpowering words.
After a while he felt the boat come to a slow and then stop. He heard her walk over to him and take his hand, hers were warm and soft, juxtaposed by his rough, calloused ones. She stood him up and then told him to open his eyes. He blinked them open against the sun, which had just escaped it’s prison of clouds. They were out in the middle of no where, the harbour no longer in sight. His breath instantly caught in his throat and refused to move from it’s sanctuary. Struggling to breath, fear flashing behind his eyes he began to jolt into an anxiety attack.
He looked at the woman who was still smiling, he couldn’t fathom why but her smile didn’t aggravate him like he first expected, in fact it had quiet the opposite effect. He began to find his breath again, short and shallow at first but he’d noticed her breaths had become slow and deep, he started trying to match them, and within a few minutes he’d safely come out the other side.
He sat down, exhausted from his ordeal and she sat on the floor, cross-legged in front of him, looking at him and beaming with delight. After a few moments she began to speak. “The ocean can seem a terrifying thing, it’s immeasurably big, inconceivably deep, we have no idea what might be lurking below the surface and we have no control over how placid it is. No matter how much we try we can never fully predict what it will do or what will happen, once we’re out on the water we’re in it’s grip. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explore it. We must surrender ourselves to it. To become comfortable with the discomfort of not being in control. And let ourselves go with the flow. A ship in the harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
And from that day the young sailor no longer loitered in the harbour fishing for scraps. Every day he set out off on the horizon, knowing that while potential danger lay ahead of him, he would take on whatever the ocean threw at him with everything he had, and not waste his imagination inventing worries.