Lucille Clifton was an African-American poet, and among other distinguished accomplishments, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award winner, the Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland and a professor at UC Santa Cruz and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a lecturer at Columbia University and a fellow at Dartmouth College. She and her husband together raised six children. She knew a thing or two about sailing through this to that.
The “blessing of the boats” is one of her more well-known poems; it is often used in graduations and other ceremonies which signal rites of passage.
It also seemed like a wonderful poem for Mother’s Day. Not the least because my mom is a boat.
You see, in the mid 90s, right around the time that I announced (college loans be damned) that I was pivoting to teach yoga, my dad decided that he was going to build a boat. We weren’t trying to one-up one another to see who could give my mom the bigger heart attack; the timing was purely coincidental.
My dad had watched an episode of The New Yankee Workshop and figured that if Norm Abram could build a boat from scratch, then so could he.
Some dads do stuff like that. Mine wasn’t one of those dads. He never did anything like that before-
Actually, that’s not true: back when he was a kid, he and a friend tried building a boat; it sank.
Nevertheless, my dad bought the plans, the shop tools, the marine wood, the whole kit and kaboodle. And then he commandeered the garage for a while. A few months later, he went to a series of “Don’t Crash into Other People’s Boats” classes so he could get properly credentialed. (I guess just announcing, “Yeah, I was in the Navy back in the day,” didn’t impress the Coast Guard folks.)
When all was said and done, many hours and dollars and internalized swear words later, my dad had the good sense to name the boat after my mom. (And thank heavens, it floated!)
While my dad was building the boat, my mom was making dinner, doing the shopping, folding laundry, vacuuming, clipping columns from the Hartford Courant to send to me, mowing the lawn on the rider mower (she never let me near the thing), doing yard work, grilling, painting the wrought iron furniture, and relaying messages and news of the day between my three sisters and I.
Oh, and working a day job, too.
When the reality of college bills loomed, my mom went back to work. Or tried to at any rate. The only spot she could land was in the mail room at an insurance company; nevertheless, she took it.
She sailed through that and then this and then that. (And along the way, she had some bosses who were so full of this and that, they were lucky she didn’t give them a piece of this and that like she was inclined.)
Not content to be merely paying down loans, my mom took on the challenge of becoming a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), a distinguished designation which required that she take a number of grueling courses and exams alongside candidates half her age. She rode the tide out beyond the face of fear and, aided by her secret stash of peppermint tea (to boost her memory, she claimed), she nailed ’em all.
She retired in 2005 because no way was she going to keep going to work when my dad was going to be at home now.
Perhaps missing all the driving she used to do to attend tennis matches, cross country races, field hockey games or to get us off to chorus, special chorus, jazz band, and other after school activities, she and my dad hopped in the car and began driving to Ohio, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York to visit my sisters and I, rescheduling tennis and doctors appointments, whenever last minute childcare coverage was needed.
So you can see, my mom’s not only a boat, but she’s also the tide, the wind I’ve turned from (certain it will love my back), and the water waving forever, too.
If at times she seems to be slightly off to the side in the picture (as she is below), it’s because she’s likely in motion to grab her camera to snap some pics herself. There’s always something that needs doing…
That’s why it’s been such a joy to have my mom join our yoga classes over the last several weeks. Not only have these classes given me the chance to keep track of how she and my dad are doing, but they’ve also given her the chance, after all these years, to simply ‘be’…
She’s been so busy blessing all the boats, she hasn’t had a chance to go for a sail herself. I’m grateful that she is here, riding the tide that is entering even now…
To Lucille Clifton, thank you for these words,
To my mom, and of course also to Paula, to Noah’s mom, to all the moms who practice with us, to all the moms I teach alongside of, and to all the moms who opened our eyes,
Al Bingham leads PostureTweak and Breathe, Move and Rest classes online at EncourageYoga.com. Online classes are $5/class however Project LOVE makes them FREE with the code LOVE at checkout. Use the code 1x or 100 times. https://www.EncourageYoga.com/ProjectLOVE