I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but it did.
A few months ago I arrived at the marina after being absent for several weeks. I wiped my feet on the welcome mat before hopping onto the boat, dreading the stale boat odor that would no doubt meet me when I opened the hatch.
Only, there was no foul odor. Greeting my nose was a pleasant whiff of peppermint. And since when did I have a welcome mat?
Two years earlier…
I landed in Denver and rented a car for the trek up the mountains to Beaver Creek Lodge. I had taken the week off of work to attend a conference for professional speakers. Why, I’m not sure…I was clearly not a professional speaker, nor did I have any intention on becoming one. I did, however, have an item on my bucket list…#1, actually, requiring that I speak to a group of over 500 people. So maybe I needed to hear what these professional speaker teachers were talking about.
At the time I also had made myself a pact to visit at least one conference a year where I didn’t know a soul. This fit the bill.
So the moment came for me to walk up the stairs and join the conference registration hullabaloo that I could hear from the distance. I had the distinct thought that I had no place being here. I knew no one. I didn’t even give speeches. Why, again, did I come? I could turn around and walk away right now and they probably wouldn’t even recognize that I’d bailed.
But something pushed me up the stairs and within minutes I was wearing a name tag. The first lady I met, my group leader, exclaimed “Bo! You’re the one that’s going to sail around the world! So happy to meet you. Here…you should meet our co-leader…she spent the last several years traveling around the world herself…”
“Hi Bo, I’m Allison.”
For years I avoided serious relationships. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken an hour in a room full of leather bound books to have been diagnosed with some sort of commitment issue. I had a job that involved traveling all over the country, sometimes world. I had the freedom many people long for and I wasn’t going to let just anything get in the way.
But I came across this passage and it gave me pause…
“I had been given a precious gift called freedom, and for a while I mistook it for the purpose of my life. I thought that because I was free to sail wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, without seeking permission from someone else, that I possessed all I would ever need. What I discovered was that if I wanted to be free, truly free, I had to choose. There were many points on the compass rose; I had to locate the few that were meant for me.”
– Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living
It wasn’t much longer before I began to realize freedom without direction is ultimately purposeless.
I was walking out the door of a control room I’d been working in for a few days in Chattanooga when my producer friend said “Hey- the Sony guys are taking us out to a fancy steakhouse in Atlanta tonight & then we’re sitting in their suite for the basketball game. You should come!”
Drooling with visions of a perfectly cooked ribeye, all I could muster was “Nah…I think I gotta go see about a girl. I’ve only hung out with her once or twice and she offered to cook, so it’s probably too late to bail.”
Had I known I would be walking into a wine fueled estrogen-fest featuring vegetarian lasagne, chick flicks, and a girl/guy ratio of 8:1 I might have reconsidered.
Fortunately I was unaware.
We were fast friends, getting together any time we were in the same zip code. I knew from the moment we met that she was special. She was different from the girls I’d encountered before. Well traveled with nothing to prove. As comfortable holding a Moscow Mule in her hand as she was Communion.
In her travels, she’d seen the Jesus I wanted to believe in. Not the guy who’d make you stand yelling sweatily at a street corner with the hate signs–the guy who just loved people and wanted to be good to them.
We’d become good enough friends to talk about her latest dating disaster or my undateability due to the whole sailing thing.
It was inevitable, really, although it took the two of us longer to figure it out than most. I fielded more than one call from her people that went something like this…
“Bo. This is Allison’s _______. When in the hell are you going to make a move on that girl?”
“Allison? What? No…she’d never date me. Isn’t she dating that Timmy or Kammy or whatever that guy’s name is? We’re just good friends.”
I figured they were probably just calling me because it was near Christmas and they needed help getting their Christmas Tree up to the 3rd floor again.
Until one weekend last spring when Allison and a friend spent several days with me on the boat. The next call I received went more like this…
“Bo. This is Allison. I think I could do it.”
Ever the Sherlock, I reply. “Do what?”
“I think I could do the whole boat thing, dumbass.”
On a muggy night in June after watching the moon rise over Perdido Bay, we agreed to give it a chance. Less than 4 days later, swimming in the twilight waters behind Horn Island, during a seemingly premature discussion about what our wedding might be like, we looked down to see the incredible neon green trails of bio luminescence surrounding us in the water.
I knew then that I’d marry this girl. I spent the next several days telling this to anyone at the tiki bar who’d listen.
Months flew by and she began the same research I’d begun 10 years prior.
“Hey. Quick question. Do we have good…ground tackle?”
“Yes, babe…we have two very oversized anchors and all chain rode. What on earth have you been reading?”
“Me again. I was reading the Women Who Sail forum and they said we need a 3-burner stove. Is that what we have?”
“Yep…that’s exactly what we have.”
“Hey. How much does our dinghy motor weigh? The Women Who Sail say I need to be able to lift it over my head. Do you think I’ll be able to?”
“You may need to spend a few extra days at that Crossfit gym, but yea, you should be able to pick it up just fine.”
“Mr. Johnston, I want to marry your daughter, but I’d like your permission first.”
“You know she’s sort of afraid of water, right?”
“She already knows how to cuss like a sailor, I just hope to turn her into one.”
“Well Bo, I can tell you she didn’t get that from her mother. Welcome to the family.”
And so it goes. As my story here is wrapping up, our story is only beginning. We’ll wed this May in front of a small gathering of friends and family, steps from the boat that will sail us through the next few years.
“Hey. We’ll probably live in a house eventually, right?” She asked, uncharacteristically sheepishly one day.
“Of course. We won’t be weird boat people forever.”
“Ok. Do you think maybe I could register for a Roomba? I really want a Roomba.”