We simply took the wrong turn in life
He could not point to anything substantial,
anything worthwhile, anything he had built with his own hands—
Waking or sleeping, I dream of boats — usually of rather small boats under a slight press of sail
E. B. White
N Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman
, the main character, Willie Loman, finds himself with great dreams, but going nowhere. He dreams, but he never builds. He has a philosophy of life, but he does not live. He has sons, but his sons have no real father. Even when he is at home, Willie is absent from his family, forever lost in a fantasy from which he cannot escape. In tragic desperation, he hangs on to that which he cannot see. Indeed, in one scene, Willie is accosted by the memory of a dead brother, a memory which poignantly asks, “What are you building? Where is it? Lay your hands on it.” Willie cannot, of course, cannot point to anything substantial, anything worthwhile, anything which he has built with his own hands.
And that is the tragedy of it all, I guess — to go through life without ever having built anything with our hands. It was not that Willie had no dreams; he did, but his dreams were always of grandeur and high fame. He never could bring himself to do what was simple and before his very eyes. Willie wanted to do the great things. As a result, he did nothing at all.
In some ways, I suppose, there is a lot of Willie in all of us. Some of us go through life with great dreams of building something with our own hands, but we never quite get around to cutting the first board. We intend to do it someday, but that someday never comes until ultimately our time to build has left us in the past, with dreams deferred but never lived. We look back on our life at what could have been, but what never was.
Where did we go wrong? Did our dreams somehow mislead us? Did we fail to build because of stubborn pride — if we could not build the biggest and the best, we would not build at all? Maybe it was our fear of trying to do something new? We lacked the confidence, and so we never did. In the process, of course, we lied to ourselves, “I could never build a boat. That’s an ability that’s far beyond my meager talent.” The truth of the matter is, however, that other people with the same meager ability as ourselves are building boats. Every day they are building.
Whatever the reason, we simply took the wrong turn. Maybe what we need to do is to turn back and begin afresh. If others are building boats, we can build a boat, too. After all, even the most skilled shipwright had to begin with his first boat. Why should it be any different with us? The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. And the adventure of a building a boat with our own hands begins with the first board. It is an adventure we can do. It is an adventure I can do. It is an adventure you can do. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Reprinted from Gaff Rig, June 2005, a publication of BYYB, an organization of rabid amateur boatbuilders and sailing afficionados.
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Used here by kind permission.