A writer who is a poet tends to see things as metaphor.  I am a writer/poet, and sometimes I drive myself crazy noticing a thing and knowing there is a delicious but elusive metaphor there, just waiting to be penned.


Last week I travelled from my home island to the mainland, to visit a friend in the hospital. A newly-launched 144-car ferry is in service now – the Tokitae (“TOH-kit-TAY”), a Salish greeting meaning “nice day, pretty colors.” This is a state-of-the-art motor vessel, 360 feet of shiny paint, new signage, up-to-the-minute radar and bristles of communications antennae, with diesel engines deep inside that purr so quietly you don’t know you’ve cast off until you notice the dock receding in your rearview mirror.

When the Tokitae reached the mainland and nosed into its berth, I watched two crewmen reach out for the mooring lines and loop them around the huge anvil-shaped cleats on the vessel. “Isn’t that interesting,” I thought. “Everything totally new, except for the ropes.” What was securing the vessel to the berth was old-fashioned weathered hemp rope, slightly frayed in places from hard work.

I stared at the rope and its many layers: natural hemp strands wound into cord, cords twined together into thumb-sized ropes, then double strands of that rope braided into a round, unbreakable cable as thick as my wrist. I could feel one of those annoying metaphors nudging at my mind. Ah well, let it go – it was time to negotiate the ramp off the ferry, and head for the hospital.

My friend was in the Intensive Care Unit, a state-of-the-art unit in a brand-new 13-story hospital. We were surrounded by technology, from the machines monitoring Mark and keeping him pain-free, to the cellphone that his wife, Effie, was reluctantly learning to navigate, and the WiFi computers in the family room that kept the two of them connected to email from well-wishers.

Effie is one of my dearest friends. We speak the same language of the heart. Her eyes glistened with tears of gratitude as she said, “You know, the phone calls and the emails are nice, but what really amazes me is how I can FEEL my connection to my friends. It’s a spiritual connection, but almost physical, like an energy network of support. THAT’S what’s keeping me going. And Mark feels it too. Each strand of love weaving into a connection that’s holding us.”

And THERE was my metaphor: the mooring rope of sacred love connecting two people to the interwoven compassion of many others, strong enough to hold them tenderly in difficult moments from which they’d rather drift away.

On a newly-minted Olympic class ferry, an ancient method still secures us to the shore of a home island.

Amid all the newest and shiniest technology in a hospital ICU, it is still a most ancient skill that binds us to each other.