The Empty Boat

Image: Randall Nyhof

Image: Randall Nyhof

You find yourself in a boat on the ocean, not far from shore.

It’s a boat that you inherited from your parents, but you’ve given it a nice new paint job and added a few parts here and there to make it yours. In the boat with you is a stranger who somehow feels very familiar to you, like you’ve met before, but you can’t quite place where.

You want to talk to the stranger, to find out who they are, but between the rocking of the boat on the choppy waves, the sounds of the gulls overhead, and the din from the village market on the shore, there’s no hope of communication.

You decide to row out farther away from the shoreline to where it’s quieter, but the waves seem to get even bigger and the rocking of the boat more pronounced, making you a little nervous. The stranger remains quiet and still and unperturbed.

Suddenly, you find yourself in the ocean, and it’s not clear if you jumped out of the boat or the stranger grabbed you and pulled you in. Nevertheless, they are there with you, sinking rapidly. As you get further from the ceaselessly undulating waves and the bright sun piercing the surface of the water like blades of light, a sense of calm starts to wash over you.

After a time, you stop sinking and you find yourself surrounded by a vast, dark stillness, and there in front of you is the stranger, smiling. You look at each other and a profound sense of recognition starts to grow in you, as if you have known the stranger forever but had forgotten them somehow. With this recognition comes a remembrance of your life, old memories relived with great clarity and a sense of detachment, like you’re seeing them through the stranger’s eyes.  Along with those memories come things that you didn’t even know you knew, but it’s clear that you’ve always known them.

A deep sense of calm and peace comes over you, and you realize that you haven’t been breathing, and you’re not even sure how long you’ve been in the deep water, but there’s no rush to get to the surface. You’re aware that what’s up there—your little boat, your village, your family—is waiting for you, just as this stranger has been waiting for you, all this time.

You become filled with the need to communicate your gratitude to the stranger, but when you open your eyes, you realize that you’re all alone, yet you still feel the presence of the stranger, who of course is no longer a stranger but an old friend.

After a time you start to float back up to the surface, to your boat, to the gulls, to the sun, to your family, your village, content knowing that you can return whenever you like, to visit your old friend.