The other night at dinner I served the last dollop of spiced mango chutney made by our friend Diana in Sydney. I’d stretched it this long because we never considered it just another condiment but rather served it only as a featured player in a meal that deserved it and we ate it consciously and with reverence, usually accompanied by storytelling and reminiscences of our times together.
I’m still enjoying a jar of my sister’s blueberry jam a full two years after she hand delivered it to Australia. Jack was forbidden to waste it on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and while I’m not a regular jam eater, there are times when two pieces of buttered toast with homemade jam comfort the soul, and my sister’s blueberry warms my heart and hits the spot when that spot needs attention.
I’ve been thinking a lot about gifts today as I read holiday greetings on social media and see the photos of gifts given and received.
When I use a certain long-handled silicone spoon to scrape the last bit of peanut butter from the bottom of the jar I’m thinking of my friend Di who gave it to me when we sailed away from Sydney. When I tidy up the device chargers and cords into an orange tortilla basket I’m thinking of our daughter-in-law Ericka who chose it in my favorite color. A fancy cheese knife, a set of carved chopsticks, each pair in its own beaded slipcase, the tiny bowl from Turkey I drop my earrings in when I go to bed, a luminous green Buddha. These totemic objects fill my days with thoughts of the people who shared something of themselves with me, and I treasure not just the memories they invoke, but the continued connection I feel whenever I see or use them.
I reach for the crocheted potholders my mother made many times a day, and even as they start to fray and fall apart I can’t imagine replacing them with anything new. Those old fashioned potholders represent the era my mother lived in, the time she spent making them and the love she had for me when she gave them to me.
The patchwork batik runner my sister made lives on our saloon table when we’re not underway and not a day goes by that I don’t admire it and appreciate the colors, the workmanship, and most of all the thought and care that went into making it.
All of these gifts are special because the people who gave them understand me, listen to me, know what makes me happy. But objects aren’t the only special gifts. What we do for each other is even better. I wrote before about Jack’s medical emergency in Labuan Bajo and how the nearby cruisers took care of him (and me), coming together in minutes to get him to the hospital and then monitor his progress. We are all mostly without close family out here and so we become each other’s kin and caregivers.
Our favorite gifts are time spent with the people we love, and the visits by our family rank at the top of that list. We are none of us flush enough for frequent long-distant airfare so the visits we get are few and far between and the time together is always precious.
One of the greatest gifts I ever received wasn’t meant to be a gift at all. About a year and a half ago I lost the carved manta ray necklace I bought in Tonga. I was crushed and spent days frantically searching the boat before coming to the conclusion that I must have left it in a marina shower. I knew that our friends Ken and Julie were in Tonga near the carver I’d bought it from, and I asked if they would pick up another one. They happily agreed and even got the carvers to make two especially for us. Our friends planned to arrive in Australia at the end of the cruising season and we looked forward to a reunion. Less than a month later they lost their boat on a reef in Fiji, and we learned that while their boat was sinking and they were salvaging what they could before abandoning ship, they took the time to find and include with their barebones possessions our new manta ray necklaces. It was a selfless and perhaps, in hindsight, foolish act, given that everything they owned was headed for the bottom of the sea and our necklaces meant nothing compared to what they lost. But the fact that in their most dire moment they thought of us makes those necklaces all the more precious. We received them many months later when they mailed them to our son so he and our daughter-in-law could bring them to Australia. I wear that necklace every day, and each morning when I fasten it I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to belong to this remarkable community of people who voyage on boats, of how capricious the sea is, of how everything we know and treasure can be lost in an instant through no fault of our own.
We realize how lucky we are that we survived our own disaster at sea relatively unscathed and were able to continue our journey. We know too many who could not. The manta ray necklace around my throat that Julie and Ken salvaged from their sinking boat and that I touch a hundred times a day reminds me that every moment of life is a gift. And if my chosen path should change suddenly for any reason I will try to remember that every day will still be a journey and the journey will still be home.
“The moon and sun are eternal travelers.
Even the years wander on.
A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years,
Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
—Bashō, Narrow Road to the Interior