It may have started with the packing list. 3-4 t-shirts. It didn’t specify how many pairs of underwear. We were left to do the math on that one. Coed sleeping arrangements. It’s a sail boat – one could imagine that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of room ….
On the drive from Duluth to Milwaukee, where we would be meeting the boat, there were three of us crammed into the back of the rental car. This should have been somehow foreshadowing the week ahead. The first couple of days were uncomfortable. You were now living, working, and existing with people that you had only just met. Conversations about our jobs and families back at home became the topic of conversation as you waited in line for the bathroom, to grab a plate for dinner, to get up or down the stairs to your bunk, as you squeezed into a spot into the galley where you would later lick your plate clean before washing it. Using the “head” (toilet) was kind of the elephant in the room for the first day. We all nervously asked – “So, did you use it yet?” I jokingly mentioned that it was kind of like summer camp. Everyone was afraid to use the outhouse. All of the superficial ‘get to know you’ stuff gets interesting when 31 of you are sharing two tiny bathrooms. It was hot and everybody was sweaty. Bathing took place on the main deck with the hose, always making sure you were on the downwind side of the boat so that you didn’t incidentally involve others in your bath.
But then after a day or two – it began to feel comfortable. As you pass by, almost brushing into each other on your way in and out of the head, you give a nod and a smile and it somehow felt normal… There aren’t that many flat spaces above deck to sit. Even less that were in the shade. So – you’d end up cramming into what little shade you could find. You’d often be sharing that shade. Your leg might be touching someone that was also trying to get out of the sun. What would have been uncomfortable in most other contexts (much less in a “professional development” setting) all of a sudden seemed comfortable and normal. The idiosyncrasies of boat life became second nature. It just becomes part of you. The people in your watch become your friends. You end up chatting by the hours through the night, soaking in the almost full moon and laughing, joking, asking questions, or just talking about nothing at all. Sharing this experience with these 30 other people have made us fast friends – even though some of us will probably never see each other again. But for right now – for this moment – it feels comfortable. After a quick stop in the Apostle Islands yesterday and now coming into Duluth, the reentry process into the real world feels somehow a little uncomfortable. There are people everywhere. I’ll have to put shoes on for the first time in a week. I miss my wife and kids and can’t wait to take a shower and use a real toilet. The buzz from this trip will soon wear off. But right now, right here… it feels comfortable.