Chris wiped the sweat from his brow as he rounded the corner and began walking down his favorite lakeside stretch of the walking path in his suburban Minnesota town. Despite the stifling humidity and heat, rare at such high latitudes, he was glad to be out solo on an evening walk. Time to himself was a rare occasion, had been for the last fifteen years, as balancing a demanding actuarial career with a wife, three teenage daughters, and the never-ending upkeep of a half-acre lot was truly acrobatic. But the dog needed walking, and with the rest of the family stumbling successfully through the chaotic weeknight routine, Chris was happy to take the job.
Typical neighborhood sounds filled Chris’ ears: lawn mowers, songbirds, passing bikes, though these did not carry far in the hazy, wet air. The small lake near his home was busy that evening. Pontoons and fishing boats littered the surface as people took advantage of every moment of fleeting summer the north offered this year. But Chris had never bothered to buy a boat for himself; despite making a comfortable living the cost was still too high when one considered the insurance and the time lost to upkeep. Summer here was short enough, and Chris busy enough, that a boat just seemed more trouble than it was worth.
Chris had always had a passion for open water, birthed during his formative years visiting relatives on the East Coast. As he continued his solitary journey, his mind detached itself and traveled back to the young man he had left there. That man had spent the summer of 1986 working the docks in Stonington, Maine, on the southern tip of Deer Isle, getting away from his Midwest home for one last summer before college, saving money to cover living expenses at school.
The man thrived near the water. Cool, clear air, the smell of salt, and hard work that forged his hands into tools invigorated and empowered him, kindling a love for hard work and the ocean. As the summer came to a close, the man was at a crossroads. Opting not to return to his home, school, and the future wife he had yet to meet, he put his money into a 40-foot sailboat that needed care to be worthy.
He worked the docks by day and tended the boat into the evenings to restore her, saving money for food and equipment, and studying knots and navigation by lamplight. Come the following spring, he was ready to sail south for the Caribbean, stopping at the major Atlantic ports of America. At his destination, he decided this was how he would spend his days, and found work to prepare for his next journey. He saw the world that way, his only plan to keep seeing, meet people, and have no plan at all.
Chris stopped abruptly in the street before his home. The suburban landscape seemed to move around him; he was seemingly suspended and separated from the Earth’s relentless spin. He hung in silence, observing reality through the lens of his fishbowl mind. The heavy air swept back toward him as if chasing a receding explosion, replacing the cool sea breeze and bringing back familiar sounds. The dog stared at him in confusion; the detonation of identity had left him a curious sight.
Shaking off the experience, Chris returned to his life and the real world, back into the fray, happy and content, but with a whisper deep in his thoughts to be answered one day. Who am I really?