I must have once known more than their last names: Hudson, Columbus, Magellan, Verrazzano. Surely once I knew all and not just some of their first names: where they started out, what they discovered, the names of some of their boats. But I have forgotten most all of that now. I am only even reminded of them now by the horizon.
There is no hint of anything beyond the horizon; it is not at all hard to believe that the world was flat. It is harder to imagine how anyone thought anything different. Who were these visionaries with such faith in the unseen? I want to know more about them.
I could look it up, I guess, do some research. But I wonder if it would tell me what I want to know? They were seekers like me, and this is something I think we have in common, but it is admittedly probably where our similarities end. Though I am fascinated with the Royal Family (and especially that new baby), I neither hobnob with or work for royalty as they did. I am more cautious than I wish; I tend to follow the rules. I miss home if I am away too long. I know precious little of celestial navigation, and am not a great sailor. I don’t like to be without creature comforts. I am not all that brave.
But even a modern-day, New-Agey, fraidy-cat seeker like me might feel that same pull to and of the ocean that the explorers felt, a tide pulling me in to join the others on the beach even as the undertow pulls me out to where few have gone before.
I used to think this was how everybody felt, that every girl spent her bookish childhood dreaming of a magical Secret Garden behind a gate no one ever thought to open. I thought everyone got a little weepy listening to Kermit sing the Rainbow Connection, the part that asks if you’ve been half-asleep, if you’ve heard voices. When he sings that he’s heard them calling his name, that he thinks they’re the same sounds that called the young sailors. (Me, too, Kermie. Me, too.) Seekers don’t always find the truth, but we know it when we hear it, and we get a little weepy when someone speaks it, and says they’ve heard it, too. We are looking in and out all at the same time too, searching for the truth within us, even while we are drawn to that which known by few, beyond what is seen by all. There is something of the seeker in all of us pulled to our ocean, drawn beyond the horizon.
I love the ocean but I have only recently realized that when I imagine myself there, what I am really imagining is a new and better version of myself. A tan and miraculously prettier one, one without the dark circles, the sickly, sallow tone of my skin in winter. A thinner one, because at the beach, I will have suddenly become outdoorsy, a newly-active lifestyle taking over the abundance on the hips honed by my habits of knitting and writing. A more relaxed version, Zen-like, peaceful, laid back and easy-breezy, comfortable doing nothing all day except sit in the sand. Donning an effortlessly elegant outfit for an effortlessly elegant dinner, all things around me reflecting my signature casual-beach style! There is no compulsive phone-checking; there are not short-attention-span issues. There is never irritation or disappointment at the beach. There is definitely no yelling.
It turns out that Big Data has actually known this about me for some time. Mining my searches, exposing my secrets, Big Data has told Facebook, who hawks in my ads overpriced gadgets that the better, beachier version of me might require to achieve this elevated existence. A swimskirt that can take you from the beach to lunch, or shopping: how neat! Turquoise Birkenstocks for walking around town like a local: so cute! A straw-hat helmet for your bike: I’ll be the envy of everyone in town! A wrap that can be a sundress, a coverup, a travel wrap, or a beach blanket: I will be flexible and ready for anything! I am such a sucker that I do not even see how I am being conned. I have bought more of these items than I would like to admit. Time and again, I’ve been had.
I look forward to my time at the beach; I imagine lazy days spent doing precious little, relaxed hours spent enjoying solitude or togetherness. I am thrilled when I arrive, believing anew that it will work this time: I will be transformed to Beth 2.0, the one without the glitches. And then, eventually, it happens: I get anxious or annoyed, jealous or disappointed. I realize I’ve scrolled through social media while the beach-read paperback remains untouched. I begin to feel lonely at dinner time. Wherever you go, there you are. I may be here, but I am still the same old me.
Which is when I start thinking of the explorers again, and I have questions we didn’t cover in social studies. I want to know what made them tick. What gave them the courage to trust their hunch that there was more beyond that horizon. I want to know if they hung out with other seekers, mystics or explorers maybe, so they didn’t feel crazy all the time. I want to know what sounded like truth, and how they followed it: what were their siren songs, what made them weepy when they heard it? I want to know what kept them going on their journeys. How they learned to trust that they could make it.
I set out again today in a daily journey for something more: for today’s truth, for a just-slightly-better version of my old self. I am hoping the explorers, if I could ask them, would tell me about the times they drifted off course and discovered nothing, having to start again the next day, frustrated and behind schedule. Or when they came upon something completely unexpected, not at all what they’d set out looking for. About what they learned along the way, and what they discovered when they were off the clock, off the map. When they found themselves in a new place, but still searching, discovering only that they were still their same old selves.
I am hoping they would assure me that it was the journey that made it all worthwhile.