I recently got back from a much-needed vacation, beach time in south Florida along with a glorious cruise to warmer weather regions, only to come home to rain and snow. I didn’t write a single thing on vacation. Not because I didn’t want to, but more because the sun was beckoning me more than the computer, and wine also. That beckoned a lot.
Even though my fingers didn’t touch a keyboard the whole time, my mind was still writing. Trying to take mental snapshots of moments and people, trying to find a glimmer of inspiration from whatever was around me.
Of course one of the things that is always inspirational, if not a little cliché, is the ocean. We all have thought it when staring out at the vastness of water, the innate feeling that you are merely a speck in the world which is so much greater than yourself. Also, that there is just so much water. I imagine astronauts have the same thoughts when staring out into space, but with a feeling that is 10-fold than what we experience when we look upon the oceans. Those common thoughts you cannot help, its human nature to self-doubt and question your existence – that is if you even stop a moment to take it in.
Yet, what came across my mind was Homer’s epic, The Odyssey along with the great Irish immigration of the 1840s. Let me explain. Homer’s The Odyssey of course for obvious reasons. This epic poem I read, just like everyone else, in school. But unlike others who found the epic poem to be tiresome, I loved it and the images I have from it are still to this day burned into my mind and at random times they will reappear. On this trip though it was specifically when Odysseus meets the siren Circe. Yes, she “persuaded” Odysseus to stay, although I don’t think he minded too much, and yes she did turn his crew into pigs, but without her guidance Odysseus and his crew would still be bumbling about on the ocean trying to find their way home.
The Irish’s plight to America may not come to mind when gazing out to the ocean. But, in the strange workings of my brain it did. Recently my brilliant 7-year old son inquired about what exactly St. Patrick did, around March 17th. Naturally, being proud of my family’s Irish lineage, I expanded our talk to a general over view of how our ancestors came to the United States. Maybe not a lecture for most 2nd graders, but you don’t know my son. His thirst for knowledge is inspiring, and he happily engaged in my possibly one-sided explanation of how/why the Irish immigrated to the US in the 1840s, and most of the mid-1800s. I’m not here to offer a history lesson, if you don’t know, but want to, there is a wealth of information on the subject.
I can only imagine the conditions and the feelings of those immigrants, crammed together on the boats. Men, women and children fleeing their country, leaving everything behind in hopes of finding a new life in America. The Irish weren’t exactly welcomed into the United States at that time, and their fighting wouldn’t end once they set foot on the boat.
One can’t help to draw parallels to every new wave of immigration that occurs, whether it be in the United States or the rest of the world. Thousands of people a day attempt to leave behind their homes which had either been taken from them or destroyed, in hopes to living a better life someplace else. And the journey begins for many across the great expanse of seas and oceans. Where the horizons all look the same and darkness is encompassing if not for the stars. It’s outer space filled with water, alone in it may feel unforgivable, daunting and scary. To feel insignificant is to be someplace where you are insignificant. So where the ocean is inspiring, it can also be sad and deadly. A lonely hell, where you are no longer a part of something, separated from the world beyond you and below. The waves don’t care from where you come or where you go. Our limitations as humans are no match for the persistent hand of nature.
“The immigrant’s heart marches to the beat of two quite different drums, one from the old homeland and the other from the new. The immigrant has to bridge these two worlds, living comfortably in the new and bringing the best of his or her ancient identity and heritage to bear on life in an adopted homeland.” (Irish President Mary McAleese – Irish Central)
“But to Menelaus I bid and command thee to go, for he has but lately come from a strange land, from a folk whence no one would hope in his heart to return, whom the storms had once driven astray into a sea so great, whence the very birds do not fare in the space of a year, so great is it and terrible.” (Homer, the Odyssey 3:276)
Inspiration can find you at the oddest times, revealing itself it forms and mediums that may seem out-of-place. But those are the nuggets to hold onto, and left to dwell, shape and blossom into something more. It would be a great idea for a story, maybe one that is worth exploring; a tumultuous and melancholy ocean, an immigrant from today, yesterday or tomorrow. Seeking a new life, shedding an old, and encountering the mysteries of the sea along the way.
What has the ocean brought to you?