I should remember being eleven . It was only yesterday , after all , if yesterday is about a half-century long or more . But , I don’t . Well , there is one moment during eleven that I remember : the Friday that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot . But , the rest of eleven must have faded away somehow . That happens . Years do that sometimes .
I was reminded , recently , of how it is to be eleven . I was floating on the surface of a glittering Polish lake on a warm day in a bulky old wooden rented rowboat . There was water sloshing in the bilge and we were weighted down to the gunnels . I was gripping an abusively heavy oar with two hands , rowing , trying to hold up my end of an unspoken bargain .
I was sitting next to an eleven year old who had hold of the other ponderous oar and was rowing steadily and strongly , putting me to shame . He wasn’t weakening as we struggled to move that old lumbering rowboat gently down the stream . Well , we were fighting a constant wind-driven current ; unforgivingly constant slaps of stubborn lakey waves were nudging the boat . It wasn’t an easy row , anyhow . I kept telling that little observation of mine to Ada , trying to avoid making my simple statement sound like a whining complaint .
My eleven year old shipmate , Mikolaj , was holding his own , keeping up with my every pull on that burdensome oar . Mikolaj was rowing with youthful determination and energy . I have to admit that I was weakening as Mikolaj seemed to be gaining strength . The old grey mare , she / he ain’t what she/he used to be , I guess . Ah , to be eleven again !
Ada was sitting aft , in the back of the wretched old rotting tub . Ada was in what we old salt sailors call the stern . Ada was astern , watching the two of us row , and translating the watchman’s calls . Mikolaj’s younger bro , Antosh , was manning the bow . I put him on watch and he took his job seriously . Directions came , in Polish of course , ordering adjustments right from our course , or adjustments left . Antosh had his eyes peeled and on the horizon .
Ada took an oar for awhile . Mikolaj took both oars for awhile . I took both oars for awhile , too . But the old dinghy moved best under command of both the eleven year old and the old man together at the oars .
FDR said that to reach a port we must set sail , not tie at anchor , not drift . I wonder what exciting future ports an eleven year old will visit . Many , and interesting ones , no doubt .
Things do not happen . Things are made to happen . Strength and courage are not enough without purpose and direction . ——— John F. Kennedy