Look for the Lifeboats

By CMCarr Founder of mySysters

There’s water coming out of the tap in my apartment. Not just any water. Clean, drinkable water.

When I traveled in Asia I couldn’t use the water coming out of the tap to brush my teeth unless I boiled it first. There are millions of people who don’t have clean, drinkable water available at their fingertips.

Easy access to water is what I call a lifeboat–something I focus on when I feel as though I’m standing aboard a sinking ship.

It comes from a conversation with friends who also struggled through personal conflicts this year. While it wasn’t the worst year of my life it certainly ranks in the top three.

There’s an epic scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End where Lord Cutler Beckett walks across the deck of his ship as it explodes around him from the impact of cannonballs launched from surrounding pirate ships. Beckett doesn’t so much as flinch, just walks calmly to impending death while staring out to sea.

That scene pretty much sums up recent months for me and some of my friends—once stable lives exploding around us like shards of that ship. The difference between us and Lord Beckett is when we stare at the horizon, we find ‘lifeboats.’

One freezing night I found myself sitting alone in my car in the cold and dark in a Minneapolis parking lot. It had been an especially hard day after several difficult weeks and I thought, ‘This is it. This is the day that breaks me.’

Then my phone pinged with the most lovely Christmas message from a new friend in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was a lifeboat at a very desperate moment.

We texted for a few minutes and after we said goodbye I sent a few holiday ‘hellos’ to friends. Within seconds a friend sent back a text: You have no idea how much I needed that today.

That’s the thing about lifeboats, whether sending or receiving them. We never know the impact of a so-called ‘small gesture’ on another life.

Recent lifeboats that kept me going: A handwritten note of encouragement my daughter snuck into my suitcase before a business trip; an out-of-the-blue apology from someone who’d treated me quite poorly; unexpected gifts from two different people; a funny email exchange with my college friend and ‘brother from another mother’ Tim when we discovered—thanks to those consumer DNA tests—we’re actually distant cousins.

If all else fails, if the ship is exploding around me and I can’t see any lifeboats in the distance, I look over at the tap and remember that with one twist I will have clean water to drink.

Then I send a lifeboat to someone else and get on with the work at hand.