“As at sea, draw unexpected resources from us”

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It is far from our current confinement to that of the sailor at sea. Above all because the navigations that I have practiced are choices, carefully considered and even often obtained by hard struggle. Furthermore, this state of isolation can be broken, if it is really necessary, by returning to the port.

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However, I see two similarities: the hampered will and the vertigo of time. In this world where we have gotten used to “everything, right away” to the point that it seems the norm, the hindrance seems unbearable. Coming and going as we please, practicing an activity, consuming when and as we see fit, is so familiar to us that we have forgotten that these are very recent prerogatives of our century and of only a part of human beings. Beyond the intolerable which involves our physical and mental health and that of our loved ones, these new constraints are perhaps an opportunity to practice serendipity: the art of doing by chance, or despite unfavorable conditions , fruitful discoveries. This narrowing of the “outside” favors the reappropriation of the “inside”. The unrestrained and often superficial consumption can be followed by the deepening of these common goods which are human relations, culture, solidarity.

The little invites the best, and since there is no longer any external freedom, let us cultivate that of the interior. The constraints of everyday life are heavy, sometimes very heavy, but allow ourselves to try what may have long dreamed us: writing, drawing, music, language, literature and all these areas of the most varied knowledge which seemed reserved for others or see you later. Getting the most out of who we are often allows us to discover unexpected resources. How many times, alone at sea, a task appeared to me insurmountable. And yet, since it was necessary, I found solutions. It is in us that are the keys to face this period.

“Human relationships take on meaning and weight”

This little and this best also applies to relationships with others. I have never tasted and learned more about my relationship with others than alone on the ocean. By passing them through this test of scarcity, human relationships take on their meaning and their weight. They appear to us for what they are: the essential motor of human beings.

This entrenchment that we are experiencing must not be synonymous with closure, but on the contrary with the re-creation of this social bond that will allow us to overcome the obstacle. These “others” are there, on the landing, across the street, at the end of the phone or a social network, the ones we may have overlooked, too absorbed in our routines. With them, we can share our frustrations, our hopes, our laughter and our rants. The bonds woven in adversity are those that are not forgotten. As for our very close relatives, those with whom we share rooms as small as a ship’s interior can be, it is up to us to rediscover them, too, to take care of them. From this attention may arise questions, discoveries, changes but which should be able to make us grow together.

The second great novelty of this confinement is the relation to time. For some it is an empty calendar, a loss of the hour and day mark, a slowing down of the watch. For others, it is a vertigo of organization between children, teleworking, spouse, household duties increased tenfold or complicated. In any case, this time becomes less rhythmic from the outside and it is up to us to put back a chosen order in our occupations, to take control of the priorities. Because time is the only thing that is counted to us all in the same way, second after second. This precious commodity is the only gift we can give to those we love. Now is the opportunity. This time is not lost, but regained. It is also a freedom to indulge in a fantasy, a passion, an experience, a reflection that was ripening somewhere deep inside us. Here is the time wedged between four walls, it is the opportunity to seize it, to taste it as much as possible, to savor it, to fill it with novelties or simply to let it flow in listening to a bird song.

The underlying reasons for this crisis

This strange freeze frame is also a great opportunity to question the meaning of what has led us so far and the underlying reasons for this crisis. For decades, the alerts have been more precise and more imperative about the nonsense of our economic organizations which undermine the fundamentals of our lives on this planet. This halt must at least serve to rethink and prepare for a more stable future from an environmental point of view and more equitable from a human point of view.

One day, this confinement will end. If we are just resuming the course of our lives as if nothing had happened, then this test will have been a useless and painful parenthesis. Alongside the pandemics favored by deforestation, will come climatic disturbances, wars for water, imbalances in biodiversity. And the upheavals will return. This collapse teaches us that the organizations we have built are neither omnipotent nor eternal. The fragility we are experiencing today is a return, albeit brutal, to reality. Life on earth is an exception in the universe and man is only a passerby.

But perhaps there will remain a little of this new taste, this astonishment at seeing that the world can turn differently, these new ideas and these solidarities, this refusal to return to the routine, these rediscovered priorities? The waiting time is also that of the prospective. Let’s use it.

What I (re) discover: the taste for ordinary things

I consider it a chance to be confined alone. I who live perpetually on trips and meetings, to the point of spending only a few rare days a month at home. Now I am re-appropriating what I like in solitude: the chosen management of my schedule and, with it, the impression that I no longer run after it. I no longer have the stress of finishing a task always faster, to make room for this other scheduled, this feeling of always having my eye on elsewhere, at the risk of rushing. I give myself the fantasy of my own priorities. Of course I have professional activities, but they no longer have tyrannical power over a few musical notes, a nice little dish or a phone call to those I love. I belong to myself, I take control of myself, I listen to myself.

Motionless and confined, I rediscover the pleasure of these little things that change around me: the light that evolves during the day, the shadows that lengthen, the buds of this spring that differ each morning, the air fresher or more soft at the window, the songs of birds which replaced the noise of the engines. These little things send me back to the world as it is, which send me back to what I am, a little human on a small planet somewhere in the cosmos. I love this feeling, which I also find at sea, of being part of a whole, of savoring the details, each of which, if you think about it, is a wonder.

It is this rhythm and this presence in reality that I will seek, among others, at sea. This is perhaps my discovery of the moment: life on land can also be savored, in its etymological sense of “giving taste ”. Now I find the taste for ordinary things.

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Ecology, its great cause

♦ An agronomist by training, Isabelle Autissier is passionate about the sea and sailing, and in 1991, at the age of 34, became the first woman to go around the world alone. Sailing will remain one of the great passions of his life.

♦ She is the author of novels, tales and essays, notably inspired by her experience as an adventurer, among which Only the sea will remember (Grasset, 2009), The Lover of Patagonia (Grasset, 2012) or Hello to the Great South (Stock, 2006), co-written with novelist Erik Orsenna.

♦ President of the WWF-France foundation, she tirelessly defends the environmental cause there, with a concern for education, in particular through radio broadcasts.

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