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Whatever floats your boat

I was reading a research study on the motives of individuals who choose to participate in acts of mass violence. My heart was heavy with Rwanda and genocide and the questions of coercion and conformity, fear and racism. My concentration was interrupted by what sounded like elephants procreating in our living room.

I stepped away from my desk to find Elijah pumping air into his brand new inflatable kayak… and sitting in it, perched atop the coffee table, as though boats are naturally meant to live there. As though Sundays are for boyfriends in bathrobes pumping air into boats, as though the burgeoning plastic and genocide reading can co-exist under the same roof, separated by a wall and whimsy.

For as long as I have loved him, Elijah has wanted to own a boat. For as long as we have loved each other, we have mostly lived on the most woefully landlocked cities, hundreds of meters above sea level and many drives away from rivers and lakes. The return to Boston and to its Charles and Mystic rivers meant Elijah had to buy the smallest unit of floating vessel we could afford: an inflatable kayak.

I had been nagging about whimsy. This bookish and inquisitive chapter of life is rife with learning and heartbreak, inspiration and budding ideas. But I was missing the whimsy… the spontaneous walks that would have us walk across a country, ‘just because.’ The giggles. Our Jerusalem Picnic Society with him and me as the inaugural (and only) members. When he bribed me to go kayaking by promising me that “we can see pretty leaves!”, I joined him in the hope that we could paddle our way to whimsy.

That would require that we agreed on how to paddle. Where. How quickly. In which direction.


Him: “Honey! Paddle forward. Forward. Honeyyyyyy.”
Honey paddles forward. Forward.
Him: “No, no, no. That’s not what I mean. The other direction is forward!” Suddenly our kayak sounded like a political campaign.
Honey paddles the other direction, in search of the elusive forward.
Him: “This kayak is too small. I can barely stretch my legs out. Can you move your seat cushion forward?”
Honey is terrified of forward. She inches slowly towards the front of the boat regardless, in the hope that she would not end up in the Mystic River as a triumph of clumsy and whimsy.
She points out branches and logs in the water, afraid that they would puncture the vessel that is more suited to a children’s pool than a Boston river. He navigates, making fun of her worry. “Always worrying.”

Ten minutes of in-boat negotiations later, he realizes that her contribution to this adventure would be documenting the beauty of it. She is more at home with a camera and Instagram than with an oar in her hand. He unilaterally decides that “this” will go faster if “just he” paddles. She does not argue.


They make it to the lake. The current is pushing them along. They are paddling in circles, photographing clouds, chasing ducks. They bundle up, nag about cold toes and red noses, marvel at the bigger boats. They have found fall and, somewhere in there, some whimsy too.

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