Friday, November 5, 2010

The mystery of life is wondering "what if"

About fifty-five miles off the coast of California in the deep, cold, blue water of the Pacific Ocean lies San Clemente Island. Once upon a time, while in the Marine Corps, I walked the twenty-one mile length of that island and swam both above and beneath the waves in the waters off shore. This is a U.S. Navy photograph of the southern tip of the island. Incidentally, despite the considerable distance from the mainland, archaeologists have found evidence of human occupation at least ten thousand years ago. To explore the unknown is human nature, would you not agree?

To dive and to dive and to dive

A few years ago (actually, more than a few, but, please, do not tell anyone) I was on a submarine (yes, I am serious) just off an island called San Clemente in the Pacific Ocean sort of between San Diego and Los Angeles, California.

Yes, again. This was while I was in the Marine Corps. I just had completed a three-week scuba/dive school, compliments of the U.S. Navy, and we now were being taught how to exit a submarine about fifty feet below the surface in order to swim ashore and do some damage and destruction. (If you do not like this story, go back and read the one about the bar in La Jolla, California, or the one about the bar in Tijuana, Mexico -- whoops, I guess I never have written about the one in TJ; maybe sometime.)

Well, I was a pretty good swimmer back in those days. (Only a year or two ago, mind you). I had swum as far as twelve miles and been down to a depth of about one-hundred-twenty feet as a high school boy in Lake Superior.

Anyway, when we exited the submarine, two at a time, on a buddy system, I waved my mate goodbye and, for a reason I did not know then and still do not know today, I swam downward instead of upward. I mean intentionally. Did I mention this was at night, in total, complete darkness, which complicated the task of knowing which way to swim toward the surface? (Try it, if you doubt me. This makes for a good excuse, if one is needed.)

To make the proverbial long story short, I did not reach the bottom before I turned and began to swim to the surface. I later learned the depth was about three hundred feet in that particular area, so I did not feel badly about not making it. (Yes, I am trying to be funny.) No one could have made it without air tanks and decompression stops on the way back up. (We wore only wet suit, mask, fins and snorkel.)

At the surface, I found my buddy more-or-less drifting along, waiting for me, smoking a cigarette. (Yes, I almost always am serious; he was nearly as bad as I was, and has been dead for a while, so certainly he cannot mind me saying that about him.)


After enjoying a few drags from his cigarette (yes, lung cancer caught up with him), we made our way ashore and, upon establishing contact with the others in our group, proceeded to scold them for being late and making us wait. (Sometimes it is absolutely amazing how gullible some people can be.)

Three points: Me, and he, too, but to a bit lesser extent than me, broke a dozen rules which meant we were complete idiots and endangered ourselves and others. But, we were young and we were Marines. That combination is lethal in many ways, often to ourselves as well as to others.

Next, I frequently joke these days that if there had been as many programs on television about sharks in those times as there are now, especially Great White Sharks, I do not think I would have been so carefree and nonchalant about swimming in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. (I joke, but, still again, I really am serious when I say it; maybe the Air Force in the next life -- somewhere with no sharks around, in any case.)

Finally, I sometimes wonder if I could have reached the bottom that night and, if so, what I would have found there, off shore from San Clemente Island in the Pacific Ocean. My logical mind tells me that I could not have and, as if offering proof positive, informs me that even if I had, there is no way I possibly could have returned to the surface alive. This is true. But, this does not stop me from wondering and from remembering each and every second of those moments, and the exhilaration during them.

The mystery of life, it seems to me, lies in wondering "what if," even when it defies human logic and common sense ....

Dirge
by Herman Melville

We drop our dead in the sea,
The bottomless, bottomless sea;
Each bubble a hollow sigh,
As it sinks forever and aye.

We drop our dead in the sea,—
The dead reek not of aught;
We drop our dead in the sea,—
The sea ne'er gives it a thought.

Sink, sink, oh corpse, still sink,
Far down in the bottomless sea,
Where the unknown forms do prowl,
Down, down in the bottomless sea.

'Tis night above, and night all round,
And night will it be with thee;
As thou sinkest, and sinkest for aye,
Deeper down in the bottomless sea.

8 comments:

Kaya said...

Interesting story and it made me think how many times I reached the "bottom" of my life. I try not to think about it but after your post I thought...

I don't like to dive and I did it many times, physically in the ocean (under huge waves) and symbolically in the life. But I can tell you when you dive and get out on a surface it's a great feeling to be save again.

And about music. Yes, I liked it a lot and it's me and it's my song, Fram

Glad that you are writing again.

Fram Actual said...

A couple of things, Kaya.

When I write about the Marine Corps, I get few if any comments. My thought is that the concepts it represents are very alien to those who stop by to visit my page, and perhaps frightening to some, especially in these times when there has been war in progress in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade and, by-in-large, the American public is no more concerned or interested in this conflict than it is in life on the far side of the moon.

Next, when I wrote this post, I was not thinking in terms of being at a bottom or a low point in life, although now, after reading your comment, I understand possibly it was a subliminal element in my mind because I have been considerably less than happy the past few months.

Instead, I was thinking in terms of reaching for the unknown, the unexplored, the infinite. In any case, I guess both arguments are valid regarding my current attitude toward life.

The song is fascinating, I think. Its creator, Ronnie James Dio, never explained what it meant, at least as far as I am aware, and others have interpreted it in at least a dozen ways. In this instance, I will not mention my view regarding its meaning.

Thank you, Kaya, for coming here and for leaving your thoughts.

its_me_in_montana said...

Thank you for this post Fram. I'm thinking you have many awesome memories and stories of your time in the Marines. Perhaps someday you will share more of them?!

I read it several minutes after you posted it, but have just now had time to thank you!

Peace to you, where ever you land next. Boni

Kaya said...

Fram, I likeed what you wrote about reaching the unknown, unexplored and infinite. I have a different perspective on your post or i saw it in a different light.

And thanks for writing about Ronnie James Dio. Right now I am curious to hear your view regarding the meaning of this song. Very curious.....

Fram Actual said...

Well, thank you, Boni, for emerging from the wilderness of Montana to read my post and to leave a comment.

Most of my memories from the Marine Corps -- vivid ones, anyway -- probably are not ones I would want to appear here. I generally call my Marine Corps time as "six-drink talk," meaning it takes about that many drinks before the lips loosen.

This particular episode is different to me in the sense that it could have happened anytime, anywhere and under a variety of experiences. To me, it mostly is a story of pushing the boundaries without rhyme or reason.

Thank you, for the good wishes. I definitely am on a road leading somewhere, but, so far, have not been smart enough to determine the destination.

Fram Actual said...

Yes, Kaya, your viewpoint initially was different from my intent, but, as I mentioned before, in a figurative sense I have been diving in muddy water lately, with zero visibility, and pulling myself along the bottom rather than swimming above it. (Have you ever done that, literally? It is nerve wracking.)

Therefore, your interpretation might actually have revealed my subconscious purpose for writing those words.

As for our man, Ronnie James Dio (who died a few months ago, in case you were unaware), this song generally is interpreted as having religious overtones (or, undertones, as the case might be), and some even have attached it to Biblical references of god casting Satan from heaven. Others identify it with the use of drugs.

As for me, I would rather interview him as a reporter and ask him directly what he meant rather than speculate with my own opinions. Since I cannot do the former, I will pass on the latter -- at least for the time being.

Wind said...

Well, Fram! I came from your future....ha ha! I wanted to know, how was your feelings in November 2010! Good!
Stories about Marine Corps!
Interesting mood!
Ok. I have to run away, back in 2011!
See you there!

Fram Actual said...

I think from now on, I will call you "Future Woman" or "Woman from the Future." The meanings might be the same, but, then, too, might be different. So, once again we have a situation of "time will reveal all."

Anyway, your curiosity about me and about things such as this gives me a good feeling and creates a deeper appreciation of you. Thank you, Daliana, for your voyage from my future into my past.

Something special ....