May the wind always be at your back.
(An Irish blessing)
I understand the blessing and the intent behind it. “May you always have help along the way” is what it says.
And who could argue with that? We all need help from time to time. But when it comes to the real thing—wind, I mean—I prefer to feel it against my face, not to be pushed from behind.
I am a kayaker. Now, don’t get too impressed. I’m not a run-the-rapids kayaker. I’m not even an explore-this-stream-to-see-where-it-goes kayaker. I am someone who loves to settle into my twenty-year-old kayak and float sedately around the perimeter of small lakes, blessed by great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds singing in the reeds, leaping fish, blooming water lilies, the sun riding down the blue bowl of the sky.
My old kayak lives at a friend’s house about thirty minutes from my city home, and all through the warm weather I go there about once a week. I settle onto the water—that’s what it feels like in a kayak, like sitting right down on top of the water—pick up my paddle and glide into bliss.
Occasionally I take a friend to use the second kayak I store at the same place, and I love sharing my love. But the best times, I find, are when I set out on the water alone with nothing and no one to think about but the water and the clouds and the steady rhythm of my paddle, dipping, dipping.
Some days the lake is glass-still, especially when I go out around sunset, the time when
day-breezes usually subside. And glassy water and utter stillness have their own charm. But the times I love best are those when there is a brisk breeze, just below the level to create white caps. (White caps signal more effort than pleasure.) And when there is such a breeze, I don’t want it at my back, for all the push it gives me. I like feeling it in my face.
Curiously, when the wind comes from behind me, it may be helping, but the blank it leaves in front of me makes the paddling feel like great effort for small progress. My arms grow heavy. When the wind caresses my face, I seem to be paddling that fine wind into existence. I fly across the surface of the lake.
It’s an illusion, I know. I am, no doubt, moving faster when the wind is behind, giving me a push. But especially because I don’t have to arrive anyplace when I’m out there, because all I have to do is to be there in the deepest possible way, I prefer the illusion of progress to progress itself.
There are, I assume, life lessons to be found in this dichotomy, but I have no particular desire to tease them out.
I think instead I’ll go kayaking and hope for a good wind in my face.