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The North Star and A Small Beautiful Boat: Images for Writing and Healing

Posted on Mar 18, 2007 by

In her book, Reviving Ophelia, which recounts many of her own experiences in counseling adolescent girls, Mary Pipher tells about how she uses the North Star as a metaphor with the girls who come to her. She writes:

I tell clients, ‘You are in a boat that is being tossed around by the winds of the world. The voices of your parents, your teachers, your friends, and the media can blow you east, then west, then back again. To stay on course you must follow your own North Star, your sense of who you truly are. Only by orienting north can you chart a course and maintain it. . .’

Even in the Midwest, where we have no large lakes, many girls have sailed. And particularly in the Midwest, girls love images of the sea. They like the images of stars, sky, roaring waters and themselves in a small, beautiful boat.

I like these images too—the sky, the stars, the water, that small beautiful boat. I was trying to think of a poem that might resonate with these images and I remembered a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter—Jubilee, a song she wrote herself and which appears on her CD, Stones in the Road. Here are four lines from the song, :

And I can tell by the way you’re searching, for something you can’t even name / That you haven’t been able to come to the table, simply glad that you came / When you feel like this try to imagine that we’re all like frail boats on the sea / Just scanning the night for that great guiding light announcing the jubilee.

I like the images in her lyrics. The words she chooses. Frail, for instance. That sense that the boats are frail–or sometimes frail. The sense she offers of all the other boats out there on the water. And that image of what the star might be pointing toward. (When I first heard this song, several years ago, I had a vague notion of what a Jubilee might be, but then I looked it up and there was more to it than I thought. According to the Hebrew Bible, a Jubilee year occurred every fifty years and, apparently, during this year, land was returned to original owners, debts were forgiven, and indentured servants were emancipated.)

A person could, I suppose, imagine healing as a quest made by water rather than by land. One could imagine traveling in a small and beautiful boat. And then there would be that star in the sky, brighter than all of the others, and holding steady, no matter which way the wind was blowing.

One could imagine, if one wanted, that the star has a particular name. And that it’s pointing toward something.