I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad lately. September is the anniversary of his death, so he’s on my mind more than usual during the fall months. While he was fighting cancer, he said to me: sometimes, ships unmoored come safely home.
When my Dad was alive, I could have asked for the reference directly (although I didn’t at the time). So I hit the Internet looking for the source. I thought it might be Shakespeare, but I couldn’t find it. I actually have the vague memory of looking up the quote some time ago and finding it and realizing that the quote wasn’t quite right and thinking, how beautiful: “ships unmoored.” Or maybe that was now, I love the idea, the phrase, ships unmoored.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to come safely home. How you can walk up your 12 steps and turn the lock with your key to that satisfying click, get the somewhat stale whiff when you walk inside to closed windows as your eyes go first to the couch to check and see if the cushion is turned in the way that hides the still mysterious medium-sized green stain (what was that?!). Or if safely home is really about that magical home in the sky home, where you don’t even believe it exactly but you’re hoping in some way when you die, whether you actually go home or you just feel like you go home, something (God, brain, death hormones, something) gives us the feeling that we are on our way safely home, going home, or just home.
I guess if my Dad had meant the latter, he could have said: ships unmoored always come safely home. But then he wouldn’t have been the same guy who got a good laugh out of his idea for a bumper sticker: Visualize my ass.
Near the end of his life he told me, he wasn’t scared to die, just curious. I don’t think he was worried about coming “safely home” although he did want to come home to die and he did. He also wanted to see the place where he’d be buried before he died. I’ll never forget the drive home from the hospital, maybe a week or so before he actually died, which included a drive by the lush, green graveyard. My father, leaning way back in the seat of the car, painfully sat up, looked out the window and nodded.
A few years after my father died, I wrote something about him for a class taught by the indomitable Daphne Merkin. The essay, she thought, was overly sentimental and over filled with positive adjectives (for starters) but, she said, the piece had really given her pause, and made her wonder what her own life would have been like if she’d had a father like my Dad.
Needless-to-say, I still haven’t trimmed much sentimentality out of my writing when the topic is my father. It’s probably not going to happen, so let me end, unashamedly.
My father taught a lot of classic Greek texts including The Odyssey. When I typed “sometimes ships unmoored” into Google, it linked me to The Odyssey, book 13:
Then for Odysseus they spread a rug and a linen sheet on the deck of the hollow ship at the stern, that he might sleep soundly; and he too went aboard, and laid him down in silence. Then they sat down on the benches, each in order, and loosed the hawser from the pierced stone. And as soon as they leaned back, and tossed the brine with their oarblades, sweet sleep fell upon his eyelids, an unawakening sleep, most sweet, and most like to death. And as on a plain four yoked stallions spring forward all together beneath the strokes of the lash, and leaping on high swiftly accomplish their way, even so the stern of that ship leapt on high, and in her wake the dark wave of the loud-sounding sea foamed mightily, and she sped safely and surely on her way; not even the circling hawk, the swiftest of winged things, could have kept pace with her. Thus she sped on swiftly and clove the waves of the sea, bearing a man the peer of the gods in counsel, one who in time past had suffered many griefs at heart in passing through wars of men and the grievous waves; but now he slept in peace, forgetful of all that he had suffered.