My love for sailing took a while to develop, but then again, so did I.
As my mom mentioned more than once during my younger years, I was a late bloomer. The first time I heard her say that (to the headmaster at my high school graduation, no less), I was just happy that she thought I bloomed. I was afraid I might always be a bud.
But I digress.
Sailing looked boring to me as a young boy. I was more interested in speedboats, jetskis, and slalom skiing. I saw my dad rig up our little Sunfish sailboat, throw on a tattered straw hat and an old lifejacket that would sooner sink him than save him, then head out from our beach with a towel wrapped around his legs to protect himself from the sun. It all looked so…slow.
If the powerboat was out of gas or our parents were tired of pulling us around on tubes, only then might I consider the sailboat. But when I did, I definitely wanted it to tip over. After all, in the mind of a young boy, what’s the point of being on a lake unless you might fall in?
But as summers came and summers went, and the course of time tamed my need for speed, I began to wonder. What was it that my dad saw in that simple little boat? During those years of my ostensible preference for speed and power, I didn’t realize I was unconsciously absorbing his appreciation for quiet, solitary sailing. It was very gradual.
But another lesson from my dad was short, sudden, and dramatic, and the memory indelible.
One day he shoved off as he had a thousand times before. Slowly and awkwardly, at first, until a breath of air made it over the tree line, filling the sail. It was common for him to be gone for an hour and a half or two.
But this particular day, I saw my dad get to the middle of our bay, and then, strangely, turn back to shore. Fifteen minutes later he pulled up alongside the dock, and I could see him take something from his arm and gently place it on one of the wooden planks.
“Spider!” he wailed, and then as slowly and determinedly as he came, he went, back to the deep blue.
Few creatures occupy a rung lower on the ladder of human regard than does the dreaded spider. Yet here was my dad sailing halfway across our lake to save one, an insignificant speck in a universe of important matters, from being swept overboard.
Did he, by sailing a spider to safety, shift the balance of good and evil? It hardly matters. What he did do was teach me, a young and impressionable boy, that all beings matter. That no life is insignificant, and that it’s good to take others into consideration as we go about our lives, in big ways and in small. And if we see kindness expressed in small ways by people we look up to, especially as children, the foundation for an expanding circle of compassion will form.
I have grown to appreciate this simple, humble approach. When we can lend a helping hand, when we can sail a spider to shore, take that opportunity and do it. Beyond your immediate impact, you never know what the ripple effect may be.
Small acts of kindness may not mean much in the balance of birth and death and all that happens in between, but they do represent the best of our humanity. We can extend our gaze and offer a small token of mercy, and our lives will not be diminished by it. In fact, a new vista may open before us and our lives will be richer for it.