If one is going to sink . . .

Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.

– Satchel Paige

By David Roper
Or does it? Twenty-one years ago, I built a small sailing dinghy. It was during a challenging time in my life, balancing the loss of my mother, an aging dad needing care, a barely profitable business and two budding teenagers. The plan back then had been to build the boat with my two kids, the way my dad and I had built my skiff when I was little. Sadly, though, my kids didn’t participate much. They’d had busy lives and different interests. So, I built it alone, finding remarkable therapy in the process. Once in a while I was able to show the kids my progress, attracting only a vague or perhaps token interest. Yet I knew, deep down, what they saw me doing would stay with them. I knew the seeds, even if way below the surface, were planted. Someday, when amidst their own trials of life and loss, my hope was that something in them, such as the idea of building a boat, would allow them to come up with an alternative to despair.

The plywood dinghy lived twice as long as it was supposed to. Her departure was sad, but not unexpected. Photo by David Roper

The little sailing dinghy had a dynamic life, flirting with both adventure and loss. Twice, some kids (teenagers, I suspect) thought it would be fun to untie it from the dock and watch it float away. Several times, adults “borrowed” it, leaving it the worse for wear upon its return. The winter of our 100-inch snowfall, a huge block of ice fell from the garage roof and nearly crushed it to death; somehow, I got it glued back together. But there were wonderful moments, too: long rows and sails away from the mother ship to explore shallow Maine coves; the gleeful chattering sound it made in our wake when being towed astern; the admiring comments from dinghy lovers as I sailed by, the tiny tanbark sail with its long red and white streamer flying proudly behind from the tip of the yard; the hilarious evening rows ashore from our mooring after a wine-filled dinner with another couple, the four of us packed into the 7’7” boat with only an inch of freeboard, water coming up through the centerboard trunk, and the stern quarter threatening submersion.

But I knew that this year, after so many years, we were running out of time. My little friend had lived twice the typical lifespan of a well-used plywood boat. But I couldn’t let go. How can you get rid of something you have built and loved and lived with for so long? My sailing pram had survived so much and seemed destined to go on forever, despite the fact that I knew, deep down, it was getting too old; that the glued-together plywood was losing the resins and flexibility of its youth.

But the boat’s life went on this summer, as I ignored its old age. It seemed it didn’t matter.

And then, suddenly, it did.

One day this September I stepped down into the little boat from our dock. As I did so my eyes were on the shore, as I was looking back at a friend on the beach who was waving. I waved back. But as I did, I felt an odd sensation in my left foot. I felt wetness. I felt immersion. I looked down. There was no left foot. No sneaker, either. Only the top of my sock was visible. I had stepped right through the bottom. And my little friend and I were going down quickly. It was truly time to let go.

At least we sank together.

Look for David Roper’s forthcoming book, “Beyond Mermaids . . . Life’s Tangles, Knots & Bends.” It’s a sequel to “Watching for Mermaids,” a three-times bestseller available on amazon.com.