This was originally going to be a Throwback Thursday post but as it turns out, yesterday was a crazy work day and two things happened since then which will help this be a better post. It’s all good.
First, last night, many of my friends were watching “Peter Pan Live” on NBC, which is something I probably would have tuned into if our antenna would allow the Peacock Network, but it doesn’t and so I lived vicariously through everyone else. I enjoyed reading everyone’s tweets and Facebook posts, and thought fondly about Peter, Tinkerbell, and the rest. It’s a great story.
Second, this morning, I overheard part of a conversation between two good friends who were talking about how exhausting it is to raise their kids in this area, what with the pressure to keep up with all of the other moms (which is, sadly, something my suburb has a reputation for: the pressure). I jumped into the conversation and told them how flabbergasted I was about their situations and that I never felt that pressure in the nineteen years I’ve lived here. When asked how that was possible, I responded, “Because I just didn’t; I always thought for myself!” (actually, I think I threw the F-word in there, to be totally honest.) This kind of thing (keeping up with the Joneses) just makes me so sad, especially when it comes to my sweet friends. I could go on for days and days on this, but what I just gave you is all you need to know for right now.
As it turns out and oddly enough, one of the photos I was prepared to write about fits right in with those two things.
Back in 2007 I had the opportunity to be one of three adult leaders on a Boy Scout High Adventure trip: sailing in the Bahamas. D, then barely fifteen, and I joined seven other teen boys and two dads for the adventure of a lifetime.
When we left the Chicago area we knew nothing specific about the boat on which we’d live for a full week, other than it would have a sail and we’d be learning the ropes, literally.
When we arrived at the beautiful Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, we quickly found out that, unlike 90% of the other scout groups that went on a “typical” High Adventure sail on a “typical” sail boat, we had won the lottery. We were seated in the briefing room waiting for our instructions when an older gentleman, a gruff, deep-voiced Brit who had clearly logged many, many nautical miles, introduced himself as our Captain. He was amazing, and just so real, for lack of a better word.
“I run a tight ship,” he told the boys. “It’s actually a Pirate Ship. You will all not only learn to sail in our daily lessons but you’ll learn about the Pirate life, too. You will take turns standing nightly watches and you’ll do all of the chores: the cookin’, the cleanin’… And I don’t wanna hear any bitchin’.”
That last part is something D STILL repeats: in fact, he said it last weekend!
At first, the boys were a little scared of our Captain. He was very intimidating.
His then-partner, a lovely British woman, was his First Mate and a Mother Hen to the boys. Their dog Sunny would be along for the ride, too.
We took our duffel bags to the pier and when we saw the ship, our chins dropped. He wasn’t kidding. It WAS a little Pirate ship.
Over the week, besides all of the chores and learning to sail, we did things like:
1. Talk like Pirates
2. Pee over the side of the boat (just the boys and men, ahem)
3. Walk the plank for whistling (because pirates believed it made the winds whip up and storms roll in)
4. Have emergency evacuation drills, mainly just for fun
5. Take turns with those overnight watches, standing out on deck under the most beautiful starry sky I will probably ever see in my life
6. Sing Pirate songs/”Sea Shanties” (over and over and over and over)
7. Eat with our knives like the Pirates did
8. Have a water balloon fight with the Captain and one of the dads, who snuck out on the rowboat to lob balloons at us
9. Dress up like Pirates and have a contest to see who could come up with the best Pirate personality to go with their outfit
10. Collect conch shells from a beach where the fishermen dumped them after cleaning them out
12. Eat coconuts fresh off of the trees
13. Visit the most beautiful beaches
14. Have knot-tying contests
Everyday, all day, we did the singing and every evening we would share “roses and thorns”, the best and worst parts of our days. As the days flew by, the boys weren’t as intimidated by the Captain and the Captain, after seeing he had a really good crew, relaxed his gruffness. Eventually the boys promoted the Captain to Admiral.
On our last evening, the Admiral had the boys gather around him on deck and sit in the usual circle. He reviewed the week we had. He reminded them of the gentle teasing that was going on without malice, that they helped each other without having to be prompted, that they looked out for each other. He reminded them of how they sang Pirate songs and dressed in funny costumes and sang silly songs. He reminded them how nobody cared what anyone else thought about all of the “unusual” activities: everyone felt safe. He asked them if they would have been able to feel that sense of freedom back at home, doing the same things. Unanimously, the answer was “no”.
He asked them if they knew why, and when nobody had an answer he had them all lean in as he whispered, “It’s because you were in Neverland, boys. You have been in this magical place for a week, a place that so many people never get to visit. And guess what? If you tell anyone that you visited Neverland they would never believe you. You will carry this experience with you for a lifetime; you’ll carry it in your heart. Don’t ever forget what you learned here.”
It was a teary-eyed goodbye for all of us; the Admiral was right. It was a life-changing week for all of us individually and as a group of scouts. It was a priceless experience I could share with my son. I don’t know if the boys will ever fully comprehend how wonderful it was to feel that freedom from judgement but I hope they do.
And I wish that everyone in the world could find themselves in a place where they found their inner Pirate and spend some time in Neverland without fear and worry of what others think, even just for a little while.