What I notice most is the silence. I knew this quiet was waiting for me, longed for it, even, at times. No background engine hum, no squeaking stabilizer outside my window, no pitter-patter of children running through the hallways of the MV Explorer. Just the ticking of the clock and the unbearable echo of emptiness ringing in my ears.
I longed for this echo at times during the three-and-a-half months I spent at sea, feared it at others. Because I knew it would mean I would be missing sitting in the sun over coffee and conversation every morning, missing my students and their stories and the tingle of their success, missing the congratulations of my colleagues when they’d read my latest essay published in an online lit magazine, missing Harry and Grace who lived down the hall, missing Kay and Andrea and Matt and Larry and Barry and Mike and Sheila and Karen and Grett and Gordon and Rodney and Suzanne and so many others, so many moments shared.
I’m back home now, physically at least, and I am glad to be settling into the familiarity of my family and the usual routine. But I can’t help reaching back to our voyage around the Atlantic during the fall Semester at Sea, wanting to hold onto that fullness for as long as I can. I want to keep that sensation of success, that confidence, that feeling that I am more adventurous, that feeling that I am bigger, stronger, more authentic. I want to remember my students, several of whom said mine was the best class they’d ever taken. I want to always be looking forward to the next port, the next chance to encounter something new and exciting, the next chance to chat with people who don’t speak my language. I want to always feel that awe at the scent of green spaces, surprising because it’s been so long since I’ve walked the damp, mossy earth, touched the rough bark of poplars and pines, seen the divine in the blossoming of bougainvillea or hibiscus.
I miss my shipboard friends. I miss the community and the camaraderie and even the conflict, the need to figure out how to be with each other because we share this small space and we cannot hide. I miss measuring time not by days or weeks but by ports (“That assignment was due before Ghana,” and “Did we do that after Buenos Aires or Rio?”) As my plane took off from Florida where the MV Explorer deposited us at the end of the semester, as this new craft lifted over the Atlantic Ocean and banked back over the flat patchworked terrain toward “home,” tears stung my eyes. Already I was missing the endless 360 degrees of blue, blue water all around me, the breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, the bowl of the sky speckled with stars, thunderheads visible on the horizon a day’s ride away, the simple thrill of catching a glimpse of whales or dolphins or flying fish.
“Are you ready to go back?” Several people have asked me that already, as if it isn’t obvious, as if there isn’t a glow radiating around me, a faraway look in my eyes. But I don’t think they quite understand my eager, unhesitating reply. I don’t think they can hear how hollow is this silence.
© 2012 Linda J. Kobert