Deep in the Third Act, I find myself valuing things I was too impatient to
notice before. Like the pleasure of petty rituals.
This morning I was up early and went for a row in my beautiful, yellow and
white single scull with Younger Next Year on the stern. There is, of course,
plenty of stuff you have to know just to row one of these things (it is 26 feet
long and less than one foot wide, after all; one must learn how). But that’s not
what I mean. I mean the perhaps-pointless rituals , at the beginning and end.
It was a lovely row on a misty morning. Then I backed in to the dock…not
easy unless you know how. But you have to do it that way. Because the bow
must always point to the doors and the lake, when you put it on the rack up in
the boathouse. Why? I have no idea but that’s the rule. And there is an odd
satisfaction to knowing this, and doing it, just so. So I backed in, as gracefully
as if someone were watching. Then took out the oars and swung the boat up
on top of my head to put it away. It looks hard, but it’s not… a little trick of
balance. Still, many people over 60 no longer do this. They lug their boat up to
the boathouse on their hip, as if it were a basket of laundry. I am not going to
do that. I am going to carry it on my head, as I was taught at the Weld
boathouse at Harvard in 1955, until I no longer can. Then I will give up the
Next, because it is the immemorial custom of the rowing community, I take a
towel and carefully wipe it down. I can’t imagine why, but that is also what
you must do. So there I stand, with a towel, and slowly wipe down the lovely
hull, from stem to stern… first the deck (upside down, now, on the rack) and
then the topsides. Slowly, carefully… lovingly. Getting every drop.
I think of my grand-daughter, a “stable-girl” in Europe this summer, wiping
down million dollar dressage horses after their workouts. We are – perhaps
simultaneously and thousands of miles apart – wiping down our beauties at
the end of their workouts. I hope she enjoys it as much as I do, and I strongly
suspect she does. She loves the horses. And her life. And I am sure she does it
with appreciation and care. Me too.