The Barnacles of Life

Growing up in a coastal town affords one a multitude of interesting environments. I compare it to all the stories people who grow up on farms have except instead of chickens, cows and fields, it’s boats, fish and the sea.

And just like a kid who has the “time I painted the barn” or “set fence posts” story, I have a removing barnacles story.

A barnacle is a type of crustacean that, as larvae, attaches itself (permanently) to anything it finds. Most often they’re seen fixed like warts onto┬ápiers, buoys, rocks and of course, boats.

These stubborn arthropods aren’t really a problem if you keep moving and regularly keep your boat maintained. However, leave your boat in the water sedentary for any length of time and you’ll have a long hard job in front of you. In fact, the US Navy spends millions every year on hull maintenance to remove barnacles.

Now why am I telling you about barnacles? Let me get back to my story.

When I was around 12 years old, we lived on Bogue sound and had a small boat to tool around in. Most of the time we took it out of the water to clean and care for it. But one year we left it tied up for a couple of months in winter without any grooming. Bad idea.

As the barnacles covered the bottom of the skiff, the added weight caused the boat to burn more fuel and put more stress on the engine. When we took it out of the water to get it ready for spring, it was covered in barnacles. Not missing a “character building” opportunity, my dad volunteered me to help him get the boat cleaned and prepped for use.

I remember spending an entire Saturday, scraper in hand, chiseling hundreds of barnacles from the sea craft. It was difficult and tedious work for a boy. I wasn’t strong enough to pry them off easily so it took everything I had. By the end of the day I was exhausted and blistered.

After we finished, my dad took me to TCBY. As we sat with our frozen yogurt (we didn’t call it froyo back then), he explained to me that barnacles don’t only grow on boats and that we can get them. He said they weren’t the animal kind, but equally devastating. The “barnacles we get”, he said, “come in the form of negative thoughts, doubts and fears we hold on to.” When we don’t let these things go, they attach themselves to us and hold us back. My dad even said success can become a barnacle if we use it to live in the past, holding on to our “glory days”.

Barnacles grow when we hold grudges, carry strife and resentment. They grow when we’re jealous of others, prideful and self-loathing. And if we don’t remove them, they’ll weigh us down and damage our lives.

Ideally we should not let them attach and grow in the first place. We can do this by regularly examining ourselves, looking for negative or destructive patterns or emotions. It also helps to have a few people in your life who know you and care enough to let you know if they see any barnacles growing.

I’m not sure if my dad was talking to himself all those years ago or to me. At 12 years old, I had no idea what he was talking about. Thirty years later I still remember that afternoon, my dad eating a small chocolate with walnuts while I enjoyed my french vanilla with Reece’s peanut butter cups, and I think about it with gratitude. It’s a life lesson I’m still learning.