I continue my Mother’s Day series with a reflection on my Grandmother. Joseph Campbell writes about the stages of life’s journey and draws upon the myths and stories told throughout time and cultures for illustration. Pointed Home is about telling this journey, stories and poems to understand where I have been, where I am at, and where I am going.
The summer of 1991, while overseas on summer training, my girlfriend at the time got very sick and was hospitalized for several weeks, the report was that she was in critical condition. I felt helpless. In those pre-internet days, the best I could was arrange for flowers to be sent to her via a friend. As I worried, the young officer assigned to be my running mate on the ship listened to me tell how I never wanted to be at sea when one of my family died.
The past decade has seen the loss of many of the great influences of my youth, including in 2010, my beloved grandmother. After 100 wonderful years, she finally passed away as my ship pulled out of Boston in 2010. Out at sea, I could not attend her memorial and I had failed to honor my young self’s wish. About a year later, a sailor on my next ship lost his grandmother. I invited him into my cabin and listened to him tell me about her and then give him a quiet place to get his bearings.
Later that same night, my family and I attended the double feature of the final Harry Potter movies. When Harry is preparing for his final battle with Voldemort the spirits of his dead parents and his mentor visit him while he faces his fears of this final confrontation. They tell him that he has all the strength he needs because he carries a part of them with him – it is because they loved him that he became a great wizard. It is that love that gives him the courage to face his mortal enemy.
Strange thing, fate. On that day, a sailor and Harry Potter gave me a path for healing the loss of my grandmother. A part of her remains with me today. In therapy as I struggled through the most dire moments of personal crisis, the therapist urged me to remember one person who loved my unconditionally, with whom I always felt safe and imagine a specific moment where I felt this way. I remembered sitting on the floor of her home at the foot of her chair playing and the unconditional love she always offered. I knew that she would wrap her arms around me and tell me everything would be okay, that she loved me. I wept.
When ships leave Boston, they transit through Cape Cod Bay, a refuge for what remains of the Right Whales. We have been trained to transit slowly and keep a close watch for these great creatures of the sea so as to not cause any more harm. When my Grandmother passed away, I was on my ship in Cape Cod Bay. A pod of whales surfaced very near to us. As the last one dove back into the Bay it raised its fin as if to wave goodbye.
One Prolonged Blast
4 to 6 second pull on the ship’s whistle
Announces to others in the harbor
The romance of sea:
“Underway! Shift colors”
The Ensign now flaps from the mast.
Jack folded into a tight triangle
Stowed away until:
“Moored! shift colors.”
Engines, rudder, tugs: controllable forces
Overcome uncontrolled winds and currents –
We lift from the pier into Boston Harbor.
The track followed past monuments,
The other side of the Freedom Trail,
Logan Airport, the haunts of Poe.
He thinks again,
“I will never wash the red dust of Fenway
From my white shoes.”
Into Cape Cod Bay,
He heads below
To check news from ashore
Not expecting this:
“Her suffering has come to an end, Son.
We were blessed with her 100 years.”
He chokes on his tears:
Can a ship’s Captain cry?
Returns topside to breathe.
Protected Right Whales,
Surface in every direction –
Then dive –
The last one
Raises its fin as if to say,