What is this boat and where is it going?
Finnish author Tove Jansson wrote whimsical children’s books that speak to adults as much as to children. The Moomintroll series. I read all the books aloud to my kids, and my younger daughter later read them to herself, over and over again. The Moomin characters are funny, furry creatures that look a bit like cuddly hippos and inhabit Moomin Valley along with other animal-like and human-like characters, most benign and a few quite threatening. The nine Moomin novels each contain wisdom, good sense, humor, and mischief, a combination found in the best children’s literature and far too infrequently in adult literature.
I’ve been thinking lately about Moominpappa at Sea—the book that most addresses the adult psyche. In fact, it illustrates mid-life angst in a profound and touching way.
Moominpappa is at a loss. It is an afternoon at the end of August, and he is walking in the garden feeling—for me anyway—an all-too familiar feeling.
“He had no idea what to do with himself, because it seemed everything there was to be done had already been done or was being done by somebody else.”
Feeling superfluous? Directionless? I am.
In the Moomin family, Moominpappa’s role has been the guardian. However, now no one really needs him, or listens to him, or appreciates him. At this time of late summer, the threat of wild fires is strong because sparks take hold and spread under the dried moss. He is ever on the alert for fire. But while he takes a nap, Moominmamma and their son, Moomintroll, discover and extinguish a tiny fire. They don’t call for Moominpappa to help. He is not needed. Everything is being done by somebody else.
Is it a wonder that I’ve been thinking of Moominpappa? My guardian/mothering days are over, the time when my daughters needed me for food, car rides, encouragement, doctoring, comforting, advising, washing…now my children have grown into self-contained young adults, separate, and craving autonomy.
Moominpappa says that the others “were always doing something. Quietly, without interruption, and with great concentration, they carried on with the hundred and one small things that made up their world. It was a world that was very private, and self-contained, and to which nothing could be added. Like a map where everything has been discovered, everywhere inhabited, and where there are no bare patches left any longer.”
Moominmamma, ever wise, understands Moominpappa’s predicament. He needs to be needed. To play his guardian role. And to rekindle that elusive excitement of waking to a new day with much to accomplish.
Moominmamma consults a map and notices that far out at sea there is a tiny island—the furthest island out.
“We’re going to move there and live there all our lives, and start everything afresh, right from the beginning,” Moominmamma says.
And so they pack up a few of their belongings and load them onto a small sailing ship, casting off at sunset.
Says Moominpappa: “A boat by night is a wonderful sight. This is the way to start a new life, with a hurricane lamp shining at the tip of the mast, and the coastline disappearing behind one as the whole world lies sleeping. Making a journey by night is more wonderful than anything in the world.”
The sailing ship’s name? The Adventure.
What a perfect idea. To set out at late mid-life on a journey to create projects and challenges, so that today and tomorrow and the day after offer something new. A journey that carries one to new places physically, but also unexplored regions within the soul.
That is the purpose of this writing—to record a journey to a place both within and without. To start afresh, right from the beginning. This blog is my boat sailing by night, into the dark, unknown and uncharted. Do I have the courage to make these remaining years an adventure?