Repainting a Boat

My friend, John, is an incredible storyteller, photographer, and writer. If I didn’t love him so much, I’d hate him – for being so gifted, so intelligent, so inspiring. 🙂 Enjoy his latest work…

Yesterday Megan picked me up from campus. We were going to go to the gym, but we took a detour instead and drove along the coast, 127A to be exact, and basked in the autumn colors and breathed in the cool sea air. After walking around Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, we drove along the harbor towards the Rocky Neck art colony. Due to a series of one ways and poor signage, our road dead-ended in an old shipyard. Some boats were being winterized; others were in plain old disrepair. Before us was an old ship—maybe 100 years old—and there were 10 people or so on the scaffolding erected alongside it. They were repainting the boat. I put my foot on the brake…and then put the car in park. I was mesmerized by the simple drama being played out before me: a man dipping his paintbrush into a tiny can of paint; the small paintbrush meeting the side of the old ship; back and forth, back and forth; the paintbrush makes its way back into the tiny can; bristles meet wet paint, and wet paint meets wood once more.

Clearly the boat had been painted before. By whom? Nobody remembers. And now a new coat of paint was being layered upon the first. By whom? Nobody will remember. Their names will not be etched on the boat. Nor will their names will be recorded in a register: “On such and such a date, Tom, Sue, and Billy painted the…” These men and women will die, and if the boat doesn’t sink, it will need to be repainted once more. And if…when that times comes, the third repainting will be an anonymous act done by anonymous men and women.

Repainting a boat is an act in faith, an act in trust. One must trust that one’s dignity and worth transcend the little task we are given this day…in this lifetime. If we are to be judged by what lasts, then what I saw yesterday was one of the stupidest, inane, meaningless activities ever imagined. Yet what I saw yesterday was far from that—it was the exact opposite of that, really. What I saw yesterday was beautiful, purposeful, careful, and timeless. Yesterday I saw imago Dei repainting a boat.

Someway, somehow, we are all repainting a boat. The work we do in this lifetime will fade; if it does not fade into oblivion completely, someone else will paint over it. That does not mean we should not paint the boat. That our work today will need to be repainted by successive generations doesn’t render today’s work in vain. It is good and right to paint the boat. It is a painfully beautiful act. And it’s okay too. We do not find our dignity because we have fashioned immortal things. Rather, our things find dignity because they were fashioned by immortal beings.


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