Thursday, November 10, 2011

The things we carry



I remember the globe that sat on my teacher's desk in the second grade. A light blue ball, smudged with the dirt from a hundred grubby hands. Crossed with lines the teacher called "Longitude" and "Latitude", it was an exotic addition to our brown walled classroom. I loved running my fingers over the primary colored continents, lingering on the raised surfaces of mountain ranges. When the teacher wasn't looking, I would spin the earth on its metal axis until the colors and continents blurred and for just a moment the world, the whole wide world, didn't seem all that big.

Things change. It takes a little more than a public school issued globe to catch my fancy now. Latitude and longitude became pedestrian "are you smarter than a 5th grader" concepts. And the world, that whole wide world, feels very, very big.

I have been reading a book that returns a little bit of the beauty to that old globe. Quick history lesson. Emphasis on quick. For most of the human story, man has set out across the dark deep ocean in search of land, riches and opportunity. Our myths are full of seagoers lost and seagoers found, although reality tended more to the lost part of the equation. Some were drowned in storms, others killed in battle, but most of those men, those husbands, sons and fathers, most of them never returned home simply because they could not find their way. They were lost because longitude, the lines running from the top to the bottom of my second grade world, could not be measured at sea. Without those measurements captains could only guess at where they were, only conjecture about where they were going. Shipfuls of men left the harbors of their homelands dependent on fickle luck. The question of longitude was the problem of the age.

Great men looked to the stars for answers. They searched superstition for truth. Each attempt was met with failure. Some catastrophic, some mildly embarrassing. It wasn't until the eighteenth century that a clockmaker of humble origins discovered the solution. John Harrison knew that longitude could be measured using a clock that kept precise, constant time. He knew that no such device had ever worked successfully on land, let alone in the changing environment of the ocean. He also knew he could make one. And he did. Before the end of his life, this carpenter and clockmaker had invented the marine chronometer. Sailors carried his lifes' work, a mechanism with a diameter of just inches, to sea and for the first time in history were able to determine where in this whole wide world they were.

I have been thinking quite a lot about the things I carry with me. I am not so different from those sailors that set out not knowing which way to go. This life holds uncertainty and storms. There are star filled nights and the joy of great discovery. I don't want to drift, don't want to miss where I was supposed to be by mere degrees. So what should I carry with me? The love of my family and the love I have for them. Hunger for knowledge. Desire to understand and do the things I am called to do. A sureness of who I am, a daughter of God. An ever increasing love for God and His word. Happiness and forgiveness and, above all, charity. Equipped with such things I know I can feel confident on this journey. That through them I will be given direction to joys and adventures and accomplishments I could not have had without their constancy. And after all the exploration and discovery and fulfillment, I know that they will lead me safely to harbor even more surely than John Harrison's chronometer.

I imagine it will be quite the homecoming.

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