I keep to myself and it feels like I’m in my own little world out here, away from the confines of the landlubbing world, away from my unhealthy cycle, my routine, I am free.
Gasping for air, I wake up in my rack.
My arms and legs are numb, the mattress once below me melted into nothingness.
I am being-less, the ocean’s rocking keeping me in a state between worlds, one foot in, one foot out.
I can’t shake the thought of that little girl and her stripy Winnie the Pooh dress.
She understands something that I don’t and she’s so certain, knowing. Assertive. Her confidence annoys me.
And why is Ireland so important?
As a child, my identity was built upon three things: I was Catholic, I was Italian, and I was Irish.
The Catholic part of me was resting, and my Italian part was buried by the Navy when Sunday spaghetti dinners with my family went away. When I became known only as Ryan.
Yes, I’ve always felt a draw to Ireland, but it never seemed so important.
The dream still feels so real that it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it isn’t.
Why, when I wanted to escape the hospital, when I wanted to escape death, did the little girl tell me to go to Ireland?
Like to fully live, I have to go? I’m on the other side of the world!
Feeling returns to my arms and legs as I force my body to stretch.
I get out of my top rack, careful not to wake the other 40 girls in my berthing.
Still in a haze, I put on my running shoes and climb the ladder up to the main deck.
There aren’t many people awake right now and those that are, are cranky from being underway for over 100 days.
I’ve learned to avoid eye contact because for now, it’s met with scowls since I arrived fresh from land a few days ago.
So, I keep to myself and it feels like I’m in my own little world out here, away from the confines of the landlubbing world, away from my unhealthy cycle, my routine, I am free.
Out there, on land, I am judged. I am at risk of falling into the cycle.
Out there I can’t feel or hear the wise, confident inner voice that I started hearing in church that day.
Here, I feel and hear it everywhere in everything that my shipmates and I do. Whatever we do together is for a collective purpose.
One of us messes up, we all do.
We are inextricably connected in the middle of the ocean.
Out here, you truly learn how small you are. How massive the world is, and how small we are in the universe.
Out here, my mind is open to the world, to weirdness that doesn’t make mine seem so different.
Out here, my world makes sense.
The only way I’ve gotten to this headspace before now is through running.
Combining the ship with running and the total sober, clearheaded state that time on the ocean gives me, without access to alcohol and everything else I use to numb, really helps to silence the disruptive ego-noise that all of it unleashes.
The treadmill is my doorway to the voice; running is my church.
A few weeks later, our ship pulls into Townsville, Australia.
I lace up my Sauconys and leave for a run as soon as the ship’s brow is lowered to the pier.
I feel different on the opposite side of the world. Like my rhythm is in sync with everyone and everything around me.
I round a corner into town square, and the sunlight blinds me.
I stop and look up in an attempt to see past the light. Instead, my vision is flooded by the tangerine fresco of the second-floor cafe balcony above me.
Tingling starts in my arms and moves to my legs when I recognize the feeling as the same one from the hallway with Pop-Pop.
Finish the run and come back.
I hang the moment and continue to run.
I go back to the café for brunch.
It happens when the waitress brings me my cappuccino.
She sets it down in front of me in its oversized mug.
The white, heart-shaped center of the tricolored, swirly foam floats toward my eyes as if gravity lost its grip.
Chest rising in anticipation, my lips curl to a smile from the stunning sense of joy it brings.
Tingling starts in my arms and moves through my legs.
I am weightless, almost being-less.
Everyone on the balcony turns to tinted mist.
I hear their laughter, and bits of conversation from here and there, fading away before I’m completely alone in the calm.
I look over my left shoulder and the balcony railing to the square. Palm trees that line the sides glow like they’re filled with neon. The sky is an endless periwinkle blue.
I close my eyes and breathe it in.
At first, I see sparkles like you get when you close your eyes on a sunny beach day, then the diamonds.
I’m pulled back to my last conversation with Pop-Pop in his hallway when the same glitter surrounded us.
“There’s belief and there’s experience,” he said.
“Belief only takes you so far. You have to experience to know, and when you know, no one can take that from you.”
In this moment I realize that Pop-Pop’s words, that my wise, confident inner voice, that the deep knowing in my stomach, that the all-calm feeling that I get when the glitter is around me, are all one and the same—they’re the universe, they’re God, and they’re nudging me to pay attention.
When I left church that Ash Wednesday when I was 16, I rejected the nun, I rejected the pamphlet of sins, and I rejected the limitations of the box that my religion had me wrapped in.
God felt like a stranger, because I equated the church with God.
The church is not God.
He’s been here all along.
I’m connected to Him every time I choose to be.
With this realization, I feel like I understand life and everything about it.
I feel so good. So complete. So at peace.
Then I order a mimosa to celebrate and forget about all of it.
That is, until we meet the pirates.
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