Perspective means everything. We, as humans, get easily overwhelmed by life’s smallness. Use me as an example: this spring I finished my Master’s degree in Florida Studies. “Finishing” included writing and defending a thesis that stretched to almost 300 pages as well as taking four comprehensive exams on all my coursework, all while continuing to work full time at a host of writing jobs.
While completing this opus, I stopped going to the gym. I stopped eating well. I stopped doing anything not directly related to earning money and finishing my degree. I lived in triage, swatting as they came at curveballs that come as a natural progression of life. In short, I lost all sense of perspective about what mattered to me. I know now that the thesis didn’t have to be so epic. I didn’t have to make it perfect. At the time, though, I was chained to my computer – at least in my mind – and I wasn’t stopping until I finished.
It may not surprise you that the unique recipe of stress, sleep deprivation, and a three month diet of Twizzlers, fast food, Corona Light and snacks that come in foil bags left me with a stomach tied in knots. A two week course of generic Prilosec left me mostly healed, but something still felt wrong.
And then there came the boat. My better half bought a 22-foot Proline dual console. We brought it home a few weeks ago and put it in the water that same day. After about five minutes on the water, knots in my shoulders untied themselves, quietly apologized, and slunk away. I drew in a deep breath for what felt like the first time since Thanksgiving. I felt my world start to right itself.
The thing about : you get an instant and humbling perspective about how big your problems aren’t. As we zoomed along the shoreline, I realized – as I always do in the air or on the water – that every home is a box with several people, and each of those people have issues as real as mine. Some might have cancer, not indigestion, and might be trying to figure out how to keep their home, not how to finish a master’s degree. The condos? Boxes of boxes with several people in each. The restaurants? They serve thousands of people with their own set of problems.
As the water shot us past the north end of the beach and the houses disappeared into clusters of sand, scrub, and palm, I felt silly for letting myself get so stressed over something that – while a big deal to me – wasn’t worth it. And then we turned home and we came under the Sand Key bridge. Off the starboard side of the boat, at Marker 14, we saw her: a mother osprey, feeding to two adorable, homely chicks. Those dinosaur-like creatures, half uncomely pterodactyl and half heart-melting balls of fluff, drove the perspective home.
Those of you born in the 80s or later may not remember a time when you didn’t see osprey much. That’s because in the 60s and 70s, DDT use pretty much decimated the osprey population. Ospreys who ate fish with high enough levels of DDT couldn’t produce enough calcium to build strong eggs, so during nesting the parents would crush their own eggs.
Today, though, the familiar cheep-cheep-cheep of the osprey rings out across the Intracoastal Waterway as mom feeds her two progeny. Off our starboard side, on the green channel marker, the father – I assume it’s the father – gives us the stink-eye, fluffs and smooths his cocoa fathers, and stretches his head to make sure we know he knows we’re there.
More than that, I realize, we know they’re there and that, more than any of the things I’ve let intrude on my life, is what matters. That's the big picture. I just needed to see the world from the water to remember.