Living With Your Sister Ship

Accepting the ghost of what wasn’t and sailing on regardless

She exists in many forms. The high school under-achiever, stubbornly sitting in remedial English while simultaneously reading three books a week. The post-grad sitting at the desk of a hair salon, wondering if beauty school would be a better decision than art. The newlywed, faced with a job offer, the job offer, weighing the pros and cons of relocating to another state. The reluctant city-dweller attempting to imagine a hazy future. Every day, every hour, we make decisions that bring us one way instead of another. A universe of parallel lives in orbit. Past, present, future selves whispering what ifs and should yous and WHOOPS in the ear of their host. Whether in one form or another, she (or he… what up, dudes?) is a burden we must all bear, in the words of the poet Tomas Tranströmer, this alternate self or selves is our sister ship. A vessel that could have been, a life that wasn’t. She sails beside us, a ghost of what wasn’t.

Tranströmer writes, “All sketches wish to be real.”

But when creating a painting, only one can be fully realized.

We live with doubt, an endless stream of questions, at least I do. My brain a near constant buzz of what’s next? Is this right? Should I go? Should I stay? This? That? Inevitably a decision must be made and the alternate abandoned to the waves, sails catching in a southeasterly wind, growing smaller in the distance. It sounds depressing, and in a way it is. We can’t live all the lives we might imagine for ourselves — practicality and sheer reality dictates that we can only live one. The one we’re at the helm of. The options could drive you insane, if you let them. The outcome rests in your at-times incapable hands, after all. We fumble. We triumph. We use these vessels to measure and gauge and examine, to determine the course of our lives-to-be. I could have chosen ignorance, I could have chosen to stay, I could have chosen a different path, one far better or far worse (who’s to say?), but I didn’t. And so I’m here, my ships beside me. Different lives that tilt and refract and offer perspective.

You can mourn the alternatives, or you can sail on, a fleet of memories and experiences to guide you. Your choice.


Note: I was introduced to Tranströmer and the idea of sister ships through the fantastic Dear Sugar, a column written by Cheryl Strayed, of Wild fame, that is almost guaranteed to make me cry at my desk on a daily basis.

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6 years ago

Love this.

6 years ago

Who knew that the mistress of “what ifs” had a beautiful name? I love the visualization of my past and present as two ships passing each other, giving credit to that part of my life and accepting it passing by me. I love this. Thanks for sharing! <3


6 years ago

This is beautiful and well said.

6 years ago

Two Roads diverged in a yellow wood….
This was beautifully written- thank you!

6 years ago

Love it! It’s beautiful and very well said. There were some tears in my eyes while reading.