“Wind, sea, boat and sails, a world that is both compact and considerable, without beginning or end, a part and yet the whole of the universe, my private universe, all my own.”
-Bernard Moitessier, The Long Way
“To be a person is to have a story to tell.”
For a long time I have doubted the premises of stories. Of all stories. Those of others as well as mine. The more they seem linear, the more I want to scratch the surface with the tip of a nail to take a look under all the smooth and the beautiful. In any case, the truth of the story is never in the succession of events, but in what they represent for the person who tells them. And sometimes also, with a little luck, for what they evoke for the person who receives them.
It is impossible to say nothing about ourselves, since that is how we build ourselves. All of us. It is something deeply human. A golden thread connects the moments of our life with the luminous and magnified memories of childhood. This invented story remains intimately intertwined with the family fictions that constitute the fondation on which our personal narrative is based. As Nancy Houston reminds us, “Identity comes to us from stories and various fictions inculcated in our early youth. We believe in them, we hold them, we cling to them”. We cling to them.
Maybe I should start by telling you where I am right now. I am on the deck of a catamaran, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on our way to the Canaries. The sun sets on a calm sea and my eyes are lost on the horizon as if they are rediscovering a forgotten world. Time stretches over vast expanses. I often get lost, forgetting the day of the week, living at the rhythm of watches. I whisper to myself words that I like : Wind. Ocean. Horizon. Wake. Silence. At other times in my life, I whispered other words: Mountain. Plane. Tundra. Desert. Love. These words seemed to me so essential. They stood there, hanging in the air around me like perfumes. Thus put one after the other, they sound like a distant story. Yet at one point they were everything. When I whisper them tonight in the middle of the ocean, I try to remember what it was like to be me with these ideas floating around, glittering and irresistible.
It is possible to say without fear of being mistaken that it all began with the song of the loon at dusk, on this big flat rock from which two children and their father were throwing fishing hooks hanging from roughly carved branches. Or perhaps it was at Côte-du-Loup, the wood where a pack of grimy children wandered in all seasons in search of adventure. Or maybe in the depths of these caves reached by crawling, diving and holding their breath in icy water, where the father turned off the lamps to allow the children to tame the darkness and the sound of the water that oozed and dripped through a new kind of silence. Or rather, on that rounded mountain from which the echoes of a summit victory hard fought against swampy marshes full of leeches and mosquitoes vibrated to the valley? Or this snow shelter, built in the heart of the coldest winter, in which it was discovered that the nights spent under the shivering stars were the most beautiful. In the end, maybe it was on the little red boat, the one that sailed in the summer on Lake Champlain or on the St. Lawrence River helmed by a good man with strikingly blue eyes and his crew, a little girl eager for new words like “halyard”, “shrouds” and “tack”, whose long braid waved in the wind.
Nervertheless, at the very beginning there was a pink room with a window overlooking a huge maple tree. A rope ladder led to a shelter in the branches of this tree whose roots sank hollow, to the edge of the vast garden covered with dandelions. Beyond this garden was a suburb of very similar houses. The screen door of the house slammed in a unique way on its aluminum frame when one of the two children came in running. This boy and girl never questioned the fact that this door was not locked, that it was always there to open. Barefooted, they left the hot asphalt of the street for the concrete of the driveway, climbed the steps of the stairs, rushed on the slate of the portico then on the olive green carpet of the hallway to the linoleum floor of the kitchen. Thousands of times, they crossed this threshold without any fear, with the deep conviction that it was a passage to a loving, comforting, solid world. They did not doubt for a moment to find, somewhere in this house, shelter against all catastrophes. They did not doubt for a moment that everything would be fine.
This safehaven certainly has propelled them even more outward. All that exists in the known universe has pulsed from inside this house to extend into ever larger concentric circles : The house, the garden, the street, the school, the park, the ice cream store, the woods, the boulevard, the shopping center. Going further and further every year, toward the outside, toward the other, carried by the luminous flux emanating from the house and extending to the deepest forests, to the highest mountains, to the distant continents, to the deepest oceans.
But perhaps here again memory plays tricks on us. Because it has the habit of fading, twisting, adjusting, to conform to what we believe we remember. If the mother had not taken this picture of the father and the two children fishing on the rock, could that memory have inserted itself in the lifelong stream of memory that at this moment culminated with hearing the loon’s song in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?
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