It pays off to glance every so often in the rear view mirror. Of course when you're on the road, it's good to know who might be bearing down on you whether an 18-wheerler, a speeding vehicle or a set of flashing lights. Figuratively, the look back gives
It pays off to glance every so often in the rear view mirror.
Of course when you’re on the road, it’s good to know who might be bearing down on you whether an 18-wheerler, a speeding vehicle or a set of flashing lights. Figuratively, the look back gives us another form of bearing, one relative to where we are today.
I got a bit of both backward glances recently.
Rowing is the only activity I know where most of the time you’re looking at where you’ve been instead of where you’re going. It has its surprises.
Even though I’ve rowed the waters of Conimicut from the point to Cole Farm hundreds of times, I look over my shoulder every 10 strokes or so. It pays off. I’ve spotted kayakers and fishermen who I’m quite sure haven’t considered that I’m not facing them; sets of waves coming my way from a tanker heading down the bay and swans that somehow aren’t perturbed until I’m practically on top of them. If not prepared, their sudden eruption of giant wings beating the water and foot-splashing scramble to get airborne can be startling. That often is not the end of the encounter. Swans usually fly straight ahead a couple of hundred feet before landing. There have been mornings where it seems I’ve spent my time chasing swans.
Then there are the surprises.
They come in the form of collisions with objects barely above the water, like tree limbs, logs and even a partially sunken skiff. Those encounters can be arresting. I’ve learned not to overreact, but to extend the oars and hold them firmly otherwise I’d be in the water.
It was before sunrise and there were no submerged objects or stubborn swans.
What made it unusual was what was following me. It was creeping along the surface, silently in waves of gray and white. The horizon was a brilliant orange, the sky blue and flecked with clouds. As I watched, Conimicut Light disappeared, next the houses at the point and then the shoreline.
Ahead of me, or I should say to my back, I could see Gaspee Point and the wind turbines at Fields Point in Providence. It was crystal clear.
Usually fog permeates the bay and the shoreline. It can have a comforting feel, a blanket drawn closely that mutes the shoreline sounds of traffic and cries of gulls.
This time it was milk poured from above. It hugged the land and sea, reaching upward no more than 30 feet, a wave rolling my way. This is where I had been. It was where everything had been clear only minutes earlier.
Is this not like aging, the past fading in places, yet jumping out making those memories all the more brilliant when they break from the fog? I wondered if this might be the curse of Alzheimer’s when the past consciously is lost and those moments once pulled from memory are lost forever.
I thought of Fred Corbett, who I met in the early 1970s soon after starting the company with Tony Ritacco. I always enjoyed talking with Fred, a financial advisor and insurance broker. We’d review policies and that sort of thing. With his wide base of clients, he knew what was going on in the community and that’s what we end up talking about. We kept in touch even after he no longer handled our account and we’d cross paths occasionally. Then we lost contact all together.
On a visit to Cornerstone Adult Services about six years ago, I saw Fred. He was aged. He carried himself confidently as I remembered.
“Fred,” I said cheerily. He turned and looked at me. His eyes didn’t register any sign of recognition. He didn’t say anything. I wondered if it could be someone else and asked an attendant. She neither confirmed nor denied the identity of the client.
“HIPA regulations,” she said.
Had Fred looked back and found the past slipping from view as slowly the present fogged? How terrible that must have been for him and his family.
I turned around fully expecting to row into the fog. It was misty. The fog was lifting and behind me the horizon was bathed in sunlight. I was glad to have been looking back and to have remembered Fred.