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MARCUS BROTHERTON New York Times Bestselling Author

All that We Can’t Hold On To … All that We Need to Set Free

May 23, 2017 // By Marcus Brotherton

Inspiration for Graduation, Life Changes, and You


 She might drift, and fill to the oarlocks, and sink down to the waterline … but she won’t go under.



When I was a kid, maybe 10 years old, I found an old wooden rowboat in the bay, just around the point from our little house on Okanagan Lake.


The rowboat was green with slime and half-submerged in the wet-mossy shallows. I checked around with neighbors and no one claimed her. So I tugged and pulled and dragged her back to our beach. The rowboat was mine.


I spent the rest of that summer cleaning and sanding and painting and filling her holes, all the while dreaming about quiet rows on the lake.


For the next few years that rowboat lived up to my dreams.


It was a beautiful old boat, and it cut a smooth and clean line through the water. We fished from it, and dived from it, and gave rides in it. Every summer or so she needed a thorough overhaul—sanding, caulking, new marine enamel and such—but we didn’t seem to mind.


After I left home, the old rowboat became my father’s project. He never said much about it until just after I’d finished graduate school. I came home for a visit, and I could tell by the scowl on my father’s face that his feelings toward the boat had turned.


“Owning an old wooden rowboat is like having a part-time job,” he muttered one afternoon. The line was repeated again several times during my visit. Then he let his true intentions be known:


“The time has come for the boat to go.”


I didn’t object much. I saw the truth in what he said. We talked about turning her into a big outdoor flower pot. We’d done that once with a different old wooden rowboat. She’d lasted three good summers before the dirt rotted her hulls and the weight of the soil broke its way through her sides. We’d chopped her up for garbage and left her in trash bags by the curb for pickup.


“Nah,” said my dad. “I’ve got a better idea.”


He said his next words quickly in a hushed and daring voice. Maybe he didn’t want the neighbors to hear.


“We’ll use the speedboat and tow her out to the middle of the lake. We’ll tie a flag on top so no one runs her over by mistake. She might drift, and fill to the oarlocks, and sink down to the waterline, but she won’t go under. The first good storm that comes along, she’ll wash to a different shore. Some other kid will find a great prize.”


A grin came to my face. “Just like we found her,” I thought.


So we did.


We towed her out, tied the flag, and cut the cord.


I often think of this story around graduation time. Often the things—and people—we value so closely are in our whereabouts only for a season.


We never hold on to them fully. We just discover them in the shallows. They’re ours to look after for a few summers until they start to be a nuisance. Then they’re ours to tow out to open water. Ours to let loose for the next great adventure.


Ours to set free.



Question: What have you set free on the water?