Tribal Thoughts

Back in Naptown again: First October sunrise from Further‘s cockpit after being gone for a couple of months.

In early August, I returned to Annapolis from Massachusetts after my two-day trip to get my car inspected in the Bay State turned into a 12-day trip to deal with a sibling in crisis. I got back to Naptown and spent four days packing up a carload of crap — surfboards, kiteboarding gear, kitchen stuff, books, clothes, clothes, more clothes, etc. — and heading back north to Mass, where I would remain for the rest of August and all of September.

But while I was there I attended a summer hockey party. One of the guys who skated in our weekly Wednesday-night game hosted everyone (and family members) at his palatial riverfront home on a sunny summer afternoon. And everyone who was there asked me if I was going to be around for the coming season, to which I had to reply that no, I was headed back to New England. Everyone expressed regret at that news (especially after I explained the reason why) and said they’d miss having me in the games. And as I drove back to town late in the afternoon I thought to myself, “How can I walk away from a community like that?”

Those who know me know I’m not much of a joiner. Not quite a misanthrope, I simply enjoy solitude and uncrowded spaces, and have always been a fan of taking the road less traveled. And yet I’ve also always been a team-sports player, and not just for the game itself. We always hear from recently retired pro athletes how what they really miss is the camaraderie, that team feeling and the locker room banter, and that’s also true for low-level hacks like myself. That community feeling that comes from being among one’s tribe is a primal force in the human psyche, and I have to confess that this feeling afflicts me with fierce power.

And yet drive back to Massachusetts I did. But recently I drove back down to Annapolis last week for ten days of working on the boat (to prep it for a winter out of the water) and working for the yacht brokerage to help them with the big powerboat and sailboat shows Annapolis hosts annually. And while there, that sense of community came back in waves.

For starters, before heading down I emailed a couple of the organizers of the various Annapolis hockey games I’d played in and asked if there was any space for me. They all replied enthusiastically that there was and that everyone would be glad to have me join in. As a result, I took my gear with me and played four games in those ten days and had a ball. And at every turn the guys asked how I was doing, how my brother was doing, if I was back for good and so on. The warmth I felt in a cold hockey rink was overpowering, and I choked up on several occasions while driving away from the rink.

That feeling of community came through in several other scenes, as well. The team at the yacht brokerage was universally glad I was there, supportive of what I was dealing with at home, and encouraged me to stay involved with the firm no matter where I was located.

And the group of friends that I originally met through my former slipmate was effusive in their happiness at my return and their wish that I’d come back permanently. Our weekly Saturday morning breakfast was filled not only with usual joy and ribbing, but also with heartfelt expressions of concern and friendliness. I got to enjoy two such gatherings while in Annapolis and on both occasions the walk back to my boat included gut-wrenching contemplation about my life, where I’m at and where I’m going. That, and a big smile at the warm feeling I got from being with good friends.

Ironically enough, on the drive home yesterday I listened to a podcast that featured Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general, on “loneliness and its impact on the mind, body and soul.” Dr. Murthy’s points about the importance and value of social connections were all perfectly illustrated by the events of the previous ten days.

Again, I’m not a joiner. Many of those Annapolis friends are members of one or another of the local yacht clubs and yet I never had interest in becoming a member. I have hockey games I play in here in New England, but the friendships seem confined to the rink — maybe because there’s so much more hockey up here compared to Maryland and it’s not such a niche group?

I returned home yesterday and was pleased in my soul to again be beside the ocean, to be back in the place where my spirit is at peace. I like Annapolis and the Chesapeake a lot, but there are also things I don’t like: the pollution in the bay, the distance to the sea, the bullshit politics of the marine industry. But the contentment that comes from being among a tribe that one has been adopted by — at the rink, at breakfast, at work, at the local pub — is a powerful draw. I don’t know that I’ll ever settle down in Annapolis; I know now I won’t rule it out.

More importantly, the experiences of the past ten days make me wonder if I need to cultivate even more social interaction, especially up here in Massachusetts where I don’t have core groups like I found in Annapolis. Because friendships and social interaction are so uplifting and empowering that the impacts carry throughout a life. Indeed, as Dr. Murthy pointed out, such interaction IS life. Or at least, a life well lived.

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