Oh shit! The Coast Guard? The fucking Coast Guard…

It was the early 90’s. I was new to working with HIV and AIDS. I was on a retreat for people living/dying with AIDS. I remember it was late at night, and everyone was sitting around a campfire singing songs. I looked over to one of the Health Department case managers and said, “This is pretty lame.” He was a young guy. He too, was fresh in the field. At that moment, I kid you not, a mutual client of ours, I call him J, came over and said, “I swear to God. I can’t fucking sing Kumbahya anymore.” So I suggested that we quietly leave one by one and take a walk.

What I remember most about that time was, I thought I was helping my clients {and was}, but they were helping me equally. I wanted to get J out of there, because I felt the energy was off. Our client wanted to leave, because he knew the importance of time. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the life expectancy was about 6 months or so. He did not want to sing. So we walked. We walked until we came across a dock with a row boat. {I tell this story to make a point. Not to glorify what we did.}

J said that he had never been on a boat. Realizing that this was probably his last chance to do so, we rowed out to a sailboat and got on. It was the middle of night. The 3 of us sat and talked, almost until the sun came up. I can’t remember so much what was said. But I can remember how it felt. It felt pure, therapeutic and cleansing. Like nothing else mattered. J just needed to talk. So he did, and we listened.

Sunlight started to creep into the morning colors. I could not stay, because I had to get to my day job. I told J I would be back for night number 2 of the retreat. It was a long night, and I knew I had long day ahead of me. Still, the feeling that I was left with after that evening, was worth feeling tired for the next day or two.

When I got back to camp, the case manager pulled me aside and told me that we must have accidentally done something to the sailboat, because the Coast Guard had to tow the boat back up the stream. Apparently we hit something that lifted the anchor, and the boat drifted down stream. No damage was done, but we should not have been on that boat. But if I had to do it all over again, truth be told, I absolutely would.

I tell this story, that time and health are our greatest commodities. We knew J was sick. We knew he was going to die. What we didn’t know was just how soon after that evening he would be gone. This week I was going to write about another subject. In fact, I had already written the article. But yesterday out of nowhere, I thought about J and the boat. I don’t know why. But I realized that someone should probably hear this story.

So as we enter into the next week, let us be mindful of both time and health. The clock is definitely ticking. My prayer is that we are all mindful of what is really important. Because we’re not all going to get the opportunity to sit on a boat and talk about all of the things that mattered before we pass. That actually is a rarity. So may we slow down. May we be of good intent. And if we stray from the moment, may we think of J and the boat.



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Vance Larson

Vance Larson

I am a retired crisis counselor of 20 years, and have spent the last decade working as both a Life Coach and Hypnotherapist.