This morning, like every morning, I chose a random Mary Oliver poem to read. Today I stumbled on “Magellan.” And because I was procrastinating from the scary work of sending out my book for review, I searched Magellan on History.com. I read about his epic voyage around the world, how his slave, Enrique, might be the real, first person to circumnavigate the globe, and how Magellan died before reaching his goal. Mostly I was speechless by the sheer audacity of it all.
The biography never mentioned when he was born. I was curious. I typed in: “When is Magellan’s birthday?” February 3, 1480. I’m not kidding. Today is his birthday. What mysterious forces made me choose that poem and spend the morning reading about Magellan? What am I supposed to learn from this dead white guy? I think it’s best summed up in these lines from Mary Oliver’s poem about him:
“Let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.”
We need to be more daring. Take bigger risks. Go toward uncertainty. Magellan was brave enough to venture into unknown waters. He may never have left his comfortable life if he knew just how big the world was. Without knowing where he was going and what he would find, he and his crew sailed on, so that the rest of us could have a better sense of how round and beautiful our world truly is. (What did him in was not the voyage, but an act of superiority that he could easily have committed after too much Sangria at home.)
When we are willing to leave behind what is familiar and comfortable, we expand our imagination and our sense of possibility. We create new maps for others to follow. Maybe Magellan himself steered my fingers toward the poem today. Tomorrow is World Cancer Day. Magellan may have wanted to share with me the secret to living with cancer, to starting a new business, to putting a book out into the world:
None of us ever know what lies ahead. I’m pretty sure there will be some shipwrecks and mutinies. But in risking “the wildest places,” we might find a new ocean with yet-to-be-named whales that sing while they leap into the limitless sky.
I’ll be cheering you on as you make your next brave move.
image credit: Flick’r, Size4riggerboots