In 2005 sitting alone at a French bar in northern Sint Maarten, I suddenly found myself with an overtly-friendly American couple occupying the two vacant barstools beside me. They immediately introduced themselves and struck up a conversation. After exchanging pleasantries and mutual boat interests, these two unloaded their nautical stories on me, I politely listened to their sailing misadventures. And then I gradually realized, I was playing audience to their drama.
As the wife began telling her version of their cruising the Caribbean together, she started to complain about her husband sitting next to her. Apparently, when the couple had initially planned their joint sailing adventure through the entire Caribbean, they gradually discovered each had separate, hidden agendas.
The wife bemoaned the fact that her husband always seemed impatient and ready to sail to the next island while she always wanted to step ashore, explore beaches, get feet wet, stay in a port for a couple weeks, experience the people and taste the culture. While her husband wasn’t interested in such social connection; he came to sail. The wife shared her husband always seemed impatient to raise their yacht’s anchor, set sail and cruise to NEXT port. While she eagerly wanted to explore and experience where they were. - the HERE and NOW. One wanted to GO while the other wanted to STAY. Obviously both partners felt out of sync. And both ironically were unhappy in their PRESENT. But strangely they both needed to tell jointly somebody their woes. Their relationship sounded like no marriage from heaven and one headed to HELL….or already was there.
Their journey and destinations had become unbearable. They both expressed their unhappiness to me. Paradoxically they had envisioned and planned together as a voyage of a lifetime, but found themselves unhappy with their PRESENT situation. Instead they were both moaning, groaning, complaining and blaming. The husband had envisioned SAILING THE CARIBBEAN while the wife envisioned EXPLORING THE CARIBBEAN TOGETHER. They both wanted a totally different experience, but were unable to see what was really at the heart of their dream adventure. They had different expectations about sailing together and were looking for another way to spark their interests.
I could only imagine their divergent ideas for what they both wanted was probably part of their relationship dynamic before they had even set sail. It was obvious, they had not truly communicated their intentions and dreams. It was obvious to me that both had never generated any kind of joint voyage vision. It soon became more and more clear why they were telling me all this history.
Then I boldly suggested maybe they had failed to notice during their island-hopping, they found their real destination. It wasn’t land or a harbor town or village - it was their conflict between their wants and wills. Instead of paradise-seeking, they had discovered the shores of unexplored territory in their relationship. But I was wrong in my assessment.
It wasn’t long before I felt like their 25-year old marriage was unraveling at the bar. While the tone and tenor of their tales had became more heated and critical of each other, I became more and more uncomfortable. They seemed almost volatile and mean towards each other. I soon realized they saw me as a pawn on their chessboard. While I witnessed their disrespectful banter and dynamic, I concluded they were enjoying their performance too much. It wasn't long before I concluded they too had an hidden agenda with me as well.
They did not want any additional perspective. They weren’t looking for any relationship help. They didn't just want to vent their discontent. They didn't just want to grab any innocent ear, tell their wail of woe and continue their unhappiness. When they suddenly suggested we could continue their "scintillating conversation" back in their hotel room, their intentions became clearer. I politely apologized and excused myself from their act and jumped away as far away as I could - separated myself both mentally and physically.
While I rehashed this event and their disingenuous nature, I also thought it so strange they retold that dysfunctional story as some sort of sympathetic tale to lure me to their room. But then I suspected it was indeed partially truthful - their Caribbean story of discord seemed real - the difference between man and woman....the difference between journey and destination...the difference between truth and reality...the difference between male and female energies. And their act to spice up their marriage by accosting a complete stranger. I felt disgusted by their wasting my time with their tawdry play. I was so glad I saw through their fake facade and had not surrendered to their selfish and wanton desires.
I remember asking myself how that awkward situation unfolded. I quickly realized it was all my doing. I had entered a hotel bar. I had placed myself next to two vacant barstools. I had accepted this couple's invitation to sit next to me. I then sat there willingly and listened respectfully to their stories. I did not choose to leave earlier. I had also shared in the conversation with them. I had made the mistake of assuming the good intentions of other sailors. I had totally put myself in that circumstance. In a way, I had invited them to sit next to me. In a way, I had surrendered without thinking about what life offered me and it was up to me to accept or reject the obstacle or opportunity.
I also thought about my surrendering to base impulses and urges. On one hand I was thankful I had enough self-respect and instinct to avoid this situation, but on the other hand, I thought how sad this couple was as human beings - a marriage of discontent seeking pleasure by using a stranger outside their so-called union. I was disgusted not only by their behavior and values, but also by their unified effort to lure me into their wanting web of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. But I knew it taught me a lesson. That night I took a long, hot shower to wash the dirt and grime of that memory. Nevertheless, is it surprising many years later I still recall the incident? Alas, does any type of sexual assault on any gender's sensibilities simply disappear from one's memories? Apparently not!
When in 1957 my mother with three sons aboard drove the family '57 Chevy station wagon 1100 miles from Easton, Maryland to Chester, Nova Scotia for a two-week vacation, I remember having one dominating thought and impulse - "When will we arrive?" My mom would always patiently respond with: "We are almost there." or "It won't be long now." or "Soon."
My childish discomfort coupled with my belief that reaching our northern destination would end my wait and "torture" made me miss most of the amazing New England and Canadian scenery. At the time I was so intent on finally reaching the end of the drive, I missed most of what was in between. I was, after all, only five years old and had little appreciation for anything other than child's play. I was too young to appreciate the journey. I had many years to learn how to surrender and appreciate the time to get somewhere as part of my destinations.
For any kid and many an adult the questions "When are we getting there?" and "Are we almost there yet?" often dominate travel. Many an impatient mind during a long trip or along any career path.
I remember in college in the early 70's that many of my classmates believed trekking cross country to California after graduation would be the ultimate experience. At the time southern California was a seductive lure for sun, surf, sandy beaches and bodacious blondes. Pennsylvania had other less attractive options. Of course, we twenty-somethings were all idealistic, naive, immature, and sex-crazed men back then. We were so starry-eyed in fact many of us envisioned a "dream" location would somehow lead us not only to to eternal financial success but also relationship happiness. Or maybe some thought drugs were an answer. Most of my young know-it-all classmates weren't living any realistic Present Moment at the time; most were too transfixed on their futures. Many of my classmates were actually aiming their sights on successful careers and business opportunities. Who had time for the Present when the Future was staring and beaming at us?
During my junior and senior years at college most every male had some vague idea where he were headed. Some of my fraternity brothers had grandiose career plans up until a 1971 evening when the US military's draft lottery changed lives and shattered dreams. I remember that night vividly to this very day. My fraternity brothers and I sat glued to the TV watching the evening news, waiting for our birth dates to be announced. Emotions ran high that night like no other. Some rejoiced, some cried, some breathed a sigh of relief and some expressed outright rage. That night the Franklin and Marshall College campus became a cornucopia of emotions... the impact of a war in Vietnam affected so many young mens' destiny that night.
One amazing observation of the lottery results in Chi Phi was those who had seemingly definite career plans and successful career success tracks laid out before them unfortunately received low numbers while generally those brothers without much career ambition ("the fuck-ups", we called them) somehow escaped with high numbers. My number was 256 so I guess I fit into that category, but those 1-150 were not so lucky. They were all going to be drafted upon graduation without a student deferment. I remember two fraternity brothers asking me how they could become Quaker. They knew my religion endorsed pacifism and could exempt a member from fighting in a war. I did not have to use that exemption thankfully and I did not know how to advise my two friends. Thankfully, the war was near over when we graduated in 1972
Early in the fall of my senior year at college in 1971, I started to inquire into job opportunities. I was an education major and knew I wanted to teach so my first step was contacting some of my past high school teachers for recommendations. One I wrote had been my history teacher and lacrosse coach, and in the intervening four years he had become a headmaster at a New England boarding school. When I spoke with him, he said he would not recommend me, but he wanted hire me instead. So, I accepted the job almost immediately. So here I am with a job contract for the following September - 6 months before my graduation and way before 95% of my classmates had a job offer. That knowing where I was going for my first full-time job motivated me. So those next 10 months I worked harder than ever. As a student teacher at a local high school in Lancaster. Pa., I taught five English classes while I attended three other college courses, played three varsity sports. I slept very while little those last months of my senior year - grading papers, studying and playing lacrosse and squash dominated my final college days.
My first job out of college was teaching English and U.S. history at Avon Old Farms - a boys' private boarding school in Connecticut. And though over the following 25 years I changed teaching jobs (5 different school destinations}, I always agreed to one-year contracts.
Friends would ask me "Why I chose education as a career path?". My answer was I never saw education as a career. I saw it as a passion...a calling as well as a series of steps along my path.
I would also add "If anything, my career path chose me." and "I love to learn and help students learn." Teaching became my calling one step at a time. My career in education just evolved. It was never my destination.
But years later it became clear to me that my eagerness to grow up and experience the world often made me miss out on so much. Teaching took me out of my quiet comfort zone and placed me in front of students where I had to communicate and be accountable. I soon learned I had not appreciated who I was, where I was, what I had, where I was going and how I was going to get there. So many unanswered questions. And then I realized if I had not been appreciating my own journey, how could I actually appreciate others?