Magellan’s Journey

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:02 PM, PDT

A chronicler of Magellan’s voyage to circle the globe, observed:”During those storms the holy body, that is, to say St. Elmo, appeared to us many times in light…on an exceedingly dark night on the maintop where he stayed for about two hours or more for our consolation.”

Well, I turned on the TV, which I almost never do, to take my mind off the cancer and fundraising… and watched a PBS show about Magellan’s journey and the modern day replica of his ship which retraced his path and circumnavigated the globe.  I couldn’t escape my brain though, which started hearing his travails and triumphs as symbolic of my own journey.

I learned some things I didn’t know, like the meaning of “St. Elmo’s fire” (named after St. Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors).  Apparently it’s a natural phenomena when electricity builds up near the end of a lightning storm and what appear to be glowing balls of fire hover near the top of tall things at sea – like masts of ships.  Magellan’s men, during a ferocious storm, were looking for divine intervention, and there it was; torches burning in the sky.  The storm then ended.  They took it as a sign to keep going.

So what are my signs to keep going?  The description of the hard months at sea without even knowing if they were going in the right direction really got to me.  How do we know if we are going in the right direction?  We don’t.  We just keep going.

When Magellan reached South America, the first thing he did was sail into a 500 mile inlet.  By then, his whole crew knew he didn’t know where he was going really.  So how do you keep your faith, your strength, your hope, when you sail a long ways into a dead end?  When everyone else thinks you are wrong?  There was a mutiny attempt and he had to execute one of his captains to prove he was the boss.  They continued the journey, eventually found the passage through to the Philippines, and then Magellan got cocky (my interpretation) and tried to go to battle with a local chief who wouldn’t be baptised for Spain.  They killed him.

So, I’m thinking, why couldn’t he have just been nice, enjoyed the scenery, filled up on food, and sailed on to the Spice Islands? His ship and what was left of the crew DID sail on and complete his journey, proving definitively that the earth is round.

But why do I like, and identify with, these impossible stories?  My journey is not nearly as courageous as those sailors.  I am not doing something that one in eight American women don’t do – being treated for breast cancer.  But somehow it has shaken me to my core.  I don’t know what the outcome will be.  I’ve sailed into several dead ends, having seen the cancer recur twice now…  Maybe it’s the hope that, against all the odds, I will be one of the lucky ones.  I will get my life back.

I hope, if I do, that I can live up to that.


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