Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Used to Row

I started rowing when I was sixteen, and in earnest in college, then quietly for about five years, then in earnest again in graduate school, then not much in the subsequent years.

For many years, I could describe myself as a rower because I had recently been doing just that.

No longer!

Moving to NYC has been wonderful, but rowing is not really possible here, even when surrounded by rivers on the island of Manhattan. A "road not taken" in life has been boarding school or college chaplaincy, probably in the UK, which likely would have involved quite a bit of time in boats.

Frank Sinatra did it his way; in terms of regrets, he had a few. In England, I often heard people say, "I have no regrets". I hear it in North America, too, but less. I regret not having been able (or found a way) to row for more years than I have. Maybe the opportunity will come again.

I first was intrigued by rowing as a boy when, sitting on the dock of my grandfather's house on Squam Lake in New Hampshire for the sunrise, saw a single sculler (in a fine polished wooden shell and wooden sculls, no less) slowly moving by. The effect of the sun dancing off of the water dripping from the blades as the perfectly balanced sculler moved through the water was magical. In reality, competitive rowing involves a huge amount of absolute agony as speed is generated. That has its own excitement, but it was the beauty of the sport that first grabbed me. And not only the sight of it, but also the sound of it - the swoosh and pop of the oar moving through the water to the release.

So in this little series on Christmas carols, how does rowing relate? For a short time, I had a bit of glory from success in rowing. Now my kids drink milk from old trophy mugs and a portrait of my Cambridge boat props up something in the hallway. Most other photos, shirts and such are in a box somewhere. And if I was in a boat, I would go as fast as the Tellytubby in the photo! But for a time, there was the glory of victory. And I lay it aside through circumstance and, if my self-description is any measure, grudgingly. Not so for the second person of the Trinity, who laid aside his glory mildly:

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!

After having viewed the video linked to the title of this post, I'm thinking maybe I'll get on the water again...