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The Heart of Life: Columbus

Monday, October 17, 2011


Once upon a time I faithfully posted on this blog once a week, every week. Then life got kind of crazy, and now I’m out of the habit. At this point in time, my schedule is slightly more stable, so I think it’s time to resurrect my poor blog.
In elementary school I was somewhat notorious for being the girl who could and would read every book—quickly, too. I read just about anything I could get my hands on. I did avoid sci-fi, but our library was so small that sometimes I couldn’t avoid it. We were only allowed to read books within a point or two of our reading level (I guess they didn’t want us to read easy books), so there were only so many books I was allowed to read.
I participated in binge reading for years. Once I got to high school, I hit a wall. I was finally sick of reading. After several years of recovery, I had to do some real soul searching to figure out what I really liked to read.
At times I enjoy popular fiction, but more often than not my patience with them is short. If a book gets cheesy, I immediately give up on it. If it is annoyingly predictable, I don’t bother finishing it. Even if an author’s style of writing—her voice, her dialogs, her plot —seems shallow or meaningless, I can’t enjoy it. My reading disorder has left me with an extremely picky appetite for literature.
I have yet to come across a work of classic literature that I did not love. I worked on an unabridged version of Hugo’s Les Miserables off and on for several years. It was absolutely beautiful (although he does get long-winded at times). Although I’m not 100% sure if The Little Prince (by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) really is a classic, it was so lovely and poignant that I consider it to be so. I’ve never gone wrong in reading any book by Jane Austen, and I am very fond of Shakespeare.
I also love memoirs and autobiographies—people telling their own stories. Even if the book isn’t very well written, I love the honesty of it, for fate drew the storyline. I like the interesting details of their memories. I read a ton of these for my social work classes, and I was rarely disappointed. I loved Turning Stones by Parent and Somebody’s Someone by Regina Louise. Both got a little raw at times, but life gets that way sometimes. Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother by Chua was both funny and fascinating. I read one about a girl who was raised in an orphanage run by extremely abusive nuns (The Unbreakable Child by Kim Richardson) and another about a girl who was raised by a mother who subjected her to Muchausen Syndrome by proxy (Sickened by Julie Gregory). Most of these that I read are super depressing. I love them, though.
Lastly, I love books about ideas. I guess you could call them philosophical. Suzuki’s Nurtured by Love has some fantastic ideas about the creation of talent. In Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl combines his experiences in a World War II concentration camp with psychology to explore life’s meaning (I would classify it as an autobiography as well). The book I’m currently working on fits under this category. It is a fairly popular one by C.S. Lewis—Mere Christianity. The cool thing about this book is that he uses concrete examples to describe very abstract ideas. He explains the logic of Christianity in general terms, not favoring any one Christian religion.
I just read a part in which he makes a very interesting point. He describes a fleet of ships and the factors that make a successful journey possible. So, in honor of Columbus day last week, imagine the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria sailing together across the ocean in search of India. What do they need to do to get to their destination safely? First of all, they need to not run into each other. If the Santa Maria and the Nina crash into each other, that’s two ships down, which leaves just the Pinta—hardly a fleet if there is only one ship left. They must be unified in purpose and do nothing to sabotage a fellow ship.
Also, each of the ships need to be in perfect working order. If all three of Columbus’s ships had decided to sail in a certain formation in order to avoid collisions, it does no good if the Pinta’s steering mechanism is broken—the Pinta will crash into one of the other ships anyway. Things need to be well within each ship to make all go well in the interactions between all three ships.
Lastly, it’s great if all the ships are in perfect condition and are unified in their destination, but if they don’t reach the correct destination, those things don’t matter. Columbus’s ships were trying to reach India, but instead landed in America! Mission failed! Now, I’m glad that Columbus made this mistake, because he happened upon a pretty awesome place. As grateful as I am, the fact remains that they got it wrong. All went well on their journey, but they journeyed to the wrong place.
According to Lewis (and I agree), the people of this earth are subject to the same three factors this fleet of ships is subject to. In order to have a successful journey through life, people must be kind to each other—they must not collide with or injure those traveling alongside them throughout life. They need to be united in abiding the laws of the land as well as moral laws.
Secondly, each person must ensure that he or she has a “sea-worthy” body and mind, so to speak. They must have the ability to follow these laws. For example, if a certain substance impairs a person’s judgment, he may not be able to avoid having these collisions with the people in his life, even if he wishes to avoid them. Just as a ship with a faulty steering device can negatively affect the perfectly good ships around it, what happens within one person can negatively affect a number of innocent people around him.
Lastly, people can be following the laws and keeping their bodies and minds in good shape, but if they aren’t headed to the correct destination, they have still got it wrong. This is where Christianity comes in the picture—up until now it has been just about universal morals, such as honesty, loyalty, etc. When you consider Columbus and his journey, there was a third party. Columbus was the one who wanted to sail, but it was the Queen of Spain who gave him a destination—India. Likewise, we have a third party in our lives that gives us a destination. The third party, of course, is God, and this destination he has in mind for us gives us a reason to be nice to everyone around us; it gives us a reason to keep our minds and bodies clean. If we fail to do so, we are unable to reach this divine destination. On the other hand, things can be going pretty well (or maybe even exceptionally well) on our journey throughout life, but if we do not reach the destination God intended for us, we got it wrong.
Now, back to Columbus. We have established that he failed. He didn’t reach the destination given to him by the Queen of Spain. If the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria had crashed fifty miles off the coast of Spain, Columbus would have failed to a similar degree. However, I believe that God’s destination for Columbus was not India. God’s destination for Columbus was to find a land that would later become a great nation, and to open doors of opportunity for hundreds and thousands of people. Yes, Columbus failed to reach the Queen’s destination (and perhaps the destination he had made for himself), but he reached the destination that is most important.
The people around us give us destinations—they have certain expectations of what we should be doing with our lives. We also give ourselves these destinations. Sometimes we reach these destinations, and other times we fail. But wherever these successes and failures take us, we should never lose sight of that destination God has drawn out for us.

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