John Donne asserted that ‘no man is an Island, adrift of himself’. I understand the sentiment but I don’t, can’t or won’t (this isn’t clear to me yet) understand the feeling that others seem to attach to it. I know that I should probably try to unravel this at some point as it’s happened a few times before and it’s quite scary sitting there saying one thing but on the inside saying quite the other – in effect having an argument with oneself when it might be easier to find a way to accept, instead of reject, the company of others and the possibility of making new friendships in the pursuit of something new.
I’m involved in a fairly close knit career and my primary sport, ultra running, is a pretty small community in and of itself. Yet still, I do feel adrift a lot of the time. The anxiety that comes with meeting new people when trying new things, in this case ocean rowing, quietly builds up into a sharp pointed crescendo and I then find myself in awkward positions.
In this case I refer to the fact I’ve spent a weekend in Southampton fully expecting and excited to be going out with the crew I’ve still yet to meet for a day in the race boats. Alas, the inevitable crescendo started to increase in pitch and pace the night before as I lay in bed worrying – not about going to sea but about having to spend a day with people who share a passion but who I don’t know.
I have an amazingly calm, supportive and assertive girlfriend who downplayed my anxiety all night and all morning and drove me to the marina. But, the second I met one of the crew I’ve yet to meet I balked. I just wanted to get away and I figured I could. Heck, this isn’t the race and I have the choice. Come race day there will be no choice, I will get in the boat and I will row as hard as I can for as long as I can in an all out attempt to win it. It won’t matter to me on the day whether or not I know or don’t know people, I’ll just know that I’m there to row and it’s that simple: you’ve got 200 miles to go to get where you need to go, so, GO.
The guys on the crew did come over to try and get me to head to the marina where the rowing boats were moored and this is the awkward part. I find it hard enough to explain these feelings clearly and concisely to myself or my girlfriend, let alone strangers. They clearly didn’t understand my clipped, straight down the line refusal to, well, fall into line. All I could think of to say, and indeed what I did say that might be understood was “Choice is the poision in the chalice, and today I do not wish to drink of it.” I apologised profusely and urged them to crack on with the day, my mind had been made up and there was little to nothing that would change it.
With that I shook hands, saw confusion in a pair of eyes, a look of bemusement on another face and something akin to concern on another! All I could do was smile and say what I said. The crew member who looked concerned I told him I’d see in Ibiza, the one with concern I might meet next week for pizza and the bemused face was actually the guy who built both rowing boats so I couldn’t say much but thank you.
So I’m sitting here now, near the entrance to Hamble Marina typing this rapidly on my phone before I lose the feeling and the way to explain and explore it. I’m looking at the River Hamble and studying the four tankers of various sizes moored at the opposite bank, I’ve watched a container ship slowly make its way to sea and I’m enjoying the wind and the smell of the sea. But I’m still no closer, in this peaceful setting, to distilling an understanding of the meaning of the feeling behind John Donne’s verse.