One of my most unforgettable experiences, ever, occurred when I was sailing for two years in the South Pacific Ocean with my husband. We had sailed from The Islands of Samoa and were about twenty miles off the tiny island of Niotoputapu, the northernmost island in Tonga. Because it was nearly dark, we decided to wait to go into the harbor at daybreak.
A storm came up during the night. My husband and I lay in bed, unable to sleep, listening to the wind begin to howl. As the velocity slowly increased, we could feel the sea tossing beneath us. Ed, an accomplished sailor, said it was best to simply lie adrift unless the storm intensified. We waited, holding each other, lost in our thoughts. The winds blew ever stronger; and the boat began heaving randomly about. I realized that my fear was rising to consciousness, despite my utter confidence in Ed’s expertise. He was in many storms during the ten years he lived and sailed in the Gulf of California and the waters out from Cabo San Lucas.
About this time he put on his “fowlies” (yellow rubberized jacket and long pants with hat to match) and went out to hoist the storm sail, a tiny sail that looked to be about the size of a handkerchief compared to the other sails. I followed him out in my “fowlies,” and we executed the storm plan. This plan consisted of disconnecting the autopilot and hand-steering the boat to go with the wind, wherever it took us. With the autopilot useless in such high winds, the storm sail, along with the rudder, served to keep us on course. I was usually in charge of steering the boat, but in this storm we had to take turns, because if the boat went off the direction of the wind, it would capsize. Even though our boat was a tri-maran.
I continued steering and watching the waves become the same height as our forty-foot mast. The tri-maran gently went up the back side of each wave, as though it were climbing a mountain, then slid easily down the leading side and up the next one, over and over. Endlessly. It was like a little cork floating along with the gigantic sea. I was probably in shock with fright.
As I robotically kept the boat on course, I became aware that I was repeating the words, “Peace, be still” to myself. “Peace, be still. Peace, be still.”
I watched the waves climb higher all around us, perfectly aware that the winds were failing to let up even a little, and I gradually began to panic, thinking, ”This ‘Peace be still’ isn’t working.”
At that moment a voice spoke to me from nowhere: “The Peace is within you.”
My mind immediately suspended its desperate, terrified panic state. A feeling of utter calm came over me. I was aware of saying softly to myself, “Oh.” And that was it. I was no longer afraid.
It wasn’t me . . . It was God.
The storm lasted three days in all, and we were exhausted when it finally abated. We had taken three-hour shifts, keeping the boat going with the wind. I tried to sleep when it was my turn to rest, but that was mostly to no avail. The boat tossed as it rode the mighty waves, so staying on the bed required some effort.
Later I smiled to myself when I heard Ed brag to a friend that “Elizabeth was a rock during the whole thing.” If he only knew.
Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed I remind myself of that truth I learned, and I pass it on to you, “The Peace is within you.”