Friday, January 27, 2012

Sailing By Ash Breeze

Nathaniel Bowditch was 12 the year of 1785 when he was apprenticed to Hodges and Ropes, owners of a ship's chandler shop. He had already been forced to leave school two years before, to work with his father as a cooper. Now, at 12, the latent genius gave up all hopes of studying for Harvard and looked forward to nine years of bookkeeping. The crush of poverty stole his dreams and seemed to consign Nathaniel to a life of the ordinary.

We are reading Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, an almost-historical novel. On Nathaniel's first day at the chandlery the voice of the mocker tells Nathaniel he is becalmed, a life full of promise now like a ship at sea without wind for the sails. Then the voice of the wise reminds Nathaniel that when a strong man is becalmed he "sails by ash breeze." A strong man pulls the oars, made of ash, and begins to row. Mr. Bowditch sailed by the ash breeze, after a full day of work, by candlelight, teaching himself algebra, calculus, Latin and French. By the end of his life he had made significant contributions to science and the study of navigation and was offered Chairs at the colleges he had never been able to attend. Carry on Mr. Bowditch is one of my favorite children's chapter books and sailing by ash breeze is the reason for that love.

Here I am, waiting. Waiting for the perfect house, or the perfect garden dirt. Waiting for my children to grow. Waiting for my husband to give me time to pursue my goals. Waiting; becalmed. When becalmed a strong woman sails by ash breeze. I am pulling the oars, setting small goals for myself that rely on no eventualities, only on getting up and rowing. I am focusing this January on being a better wife, a better mom, a better homemaker, a better seeker of God, all around better. I am focusing on self-discipline, nothing new, only improved. Sailing by ash breeze seems a perfect motto.

The mocker tells Nathaniel Bowditch, "nine years is a long time. You'll get mighty tired of sailing by ash breeze." I've been here before: trying to retrain myself, focusing on what's good and right. A lifetime is a long time to be a better person. The question isn't whether I can keep it up through January. The question is, can I learn to make these choices habits? Can I row until God sends the breezes to fill the sails? This morning, laying under the covers, I was "mighty tired," ready for a holiday, after three weeks.

Today was the perfect day to read of sailing by ash breeze.

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