Tour of Duty: Personal and Political
Last Sunday at Newport Harbor yacht club, about 25 of us gathered to board the Soluna, my brother’s 52” motorboat and spread ashes at sea. They were of my former wife’s father, Les. Like my own father, Les had suffered the torments of a long, lingering diabetes death. Both had been big men, tough and hardened, and brave and unbelievably strong, even more so toward the end when all that remained was pain and the sure knowledge of their own mortality. Death was a delivery from misery, a kindness. At least, that is what we told ourselves as the Soluna made for the jetty’s entrance.
When ashes are spread at sea, it cannot be haphazard, just dumping them over the side. That would be disrespectful. Besides, the wind might just blow them right back in a karmic joke. Instead, my ex-wife Teddie walked out onto the swim-step at the stern, and a wreath was laid on the water. I sat with Les’ wife, Pat, who was stoic and dignified. Slowly and with exquisite care, Teddie poured the ashes into the center of the wreath, which was webbed to hold the contents. It only took a moment or two, but it felt like forever; the wreath, the ocean, the pouring, the mild almost inviting wind. When it was done and the wreath let go, like his life, as under the weight of the contents, it sank.
Then we tossed out flowers. The boat unhurriedly circled the flowers, one, twice, three times. Circling was part of the ceremony; sometimes the boat will be driven in a figure eight around the sinking wreath as a nod to the infinite. But we did not. We circled and pondered. I looked at the sun and water, glanced at my three kids aged 16-23 looking so young and invulnerable, and wished the moment would never end.
A few hours later, the Soluna pulled up to the dock at the Balboa Bay Club to pick up a group of visiting Chinese dignitaries. They were part of a mission that had visited with President Obama and a day earlier with 15 U.S. state governors in Los Angeles. Now it was Sunday and an American who had helped arrange the trip had asked me if my brother would take the Chinese on a “bay tour.”
No problem. For people with boats in Newport Harbor, giving tours is a way of life
What obviously made this group different, was the language gap and the translators, and the big American bodyguard assigned them by the State Department, who had a handgun at his back under his jacket.
One tall Chinese visitor was treated with great deference. I was told he was in line to be the Chinese premier and now he was governor of the province hosting the mightiest part of the Chinese economic miracle. He had come to America to make friends. All those U.S. state governors were also hoping he came to make investments too.
One of dignitaries, the vice mayor of the Nanjing Municipal People’s Government, could speak perfect English and proudly boasted of the growth in his city and surrounding area. He was cheery, forthright and likeable. He gave me his business card and urged me to visit.
Then we were back at the dock. The Soluna had performed perfectly. My father-in-law was released into peace. The Chinese Bay Tour was as impressive as always. Only the sea abides.
Michael Ray grew up in CdM and now lives in Laguna Beach. He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.