You Can’t Judge a Ship By Its Sail

One of my favorite activities at the lake is watching the sailboats. Once the breeze picks up in the late morning or early afternoon they come out in droves. If conditions are right, races take place on the weekends.

I grew up in the middle of cornfields in Illinois. I don’t know how to sail and I’ve never been on a sailboat but the mix of color on the little sunfish boats jumbled in with the tall and regal MCs creates the perfect visual display to watch while seated in my Adirondack on the deck.

To my ignorant eyes, the race appears to be a free-for-all with no rhyme or reason to the course. Each boat seems to be traveling within arms reach of colliding into another. From the shore there is no way of knowing which boats are winning and which boats are losing. I have no knowledge of sailing, no knowledge of race etiquette and it makes no sense to me. 

From the shore it’s a beautiful disaster.

But to the sailors on the course everything is as it should be. They turn and weave to avoid danger. When the wind falls out of their sails they make the proper adjustments. They understand where they are in the race. They are familiar with the course and know the rules of  conduct. 

They steer their vessels with confidence and skill. 

And so it is for each of us in life. What may look like chaos and disfuncion to the stranger on the  outside may actually be perfectly under control. Where one may see danger others see freedom. What one sees as strange or foreign may be normal for others. 

Just as I don’t need to understand sailing to appreciate its beauty, I don’t need to understand the lives of others to appreciate them. I don’t need to understand something to see the beauty and value in it. I can never understand the whole picture from the shore. 

How many times have we judged another for the course they were charting. How many times have we questioned the direction someone was headed? How often have we scoffed at the results of someone’s journey? How many times have we dismissed others without knowing the details and nuances of their life?

Only those in the race can know how to best pilot their ship. We need to trust they know their way.


Published by Jill Robinson

Speech-Language Pathologist. Writer. Athlete. Wife. Mother. Animal lover. Not necessarily in that order.

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