February 15, 2011
Several decades back, more years ago than I care to admit, I was a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Jersey, dividing my time between school, family, friends, the beach, and a good book. Most of those reads were fiction, with special appearances from Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, the lovely gentlemen who colluded to help me fulfill my adolescent sci-fi fetish. A Wrinkle in Time, My Friend Flicka, The Egypt Game, and anything Nancy Drew were considered trusted friends, a lovely way to get through an afternoon in an era where texting and the internet were as yet distant dreams. There were, of course, a few interlopers into my fantasy/fiction mix. These infiltrators were the books based on the lives of famous women my mom encouraged me to read, which I secretly did, although I pretended to regard them with utter disdain and banish them to the corner of my room.
I was twelve, and they were from my mother. I’m sure by now she’s forgiven me.
One of those biographies was based on the life of Amelia Earhart, who even among such giants as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriet Tubman, left a considerable impression on my as yet unraised consciousness. I was impressed by the bold way in which Earhart lived her life, her continual forays into domains previously dominated by men, her survival of a somewhat tumultuous childhood, the fact that she preferred to wear pants. I was hooked on her life well before I got to the denouement, that fateful trip concluding over the Bermuda Triangle where she and her navigator Fred Noonan seemingly disappeared, vanishing into the gray-green seas that seemed to swallow them whole, without mercy.
I remember thinking that up to this point in my young life, I had pretty much solved the mysteries of my particular universe. Santa and the Easter Bunny had been thoroughly debunked. I understood that my little brother would continue to mess with my stuff for the remainder of my childhood, simply because he could. Certainly, I hadn’t quite resolved the whole concept of death and the afterlife yet, but I figured I had time, and if everyone was wrong, I’d just get to sleep.
Even at twelve, sleep was a good thing.
I recall moving on from biographies to boys around that point, and I literally shelved the fate of Amelia Earhart along with that of the suffragettes, figuring we’d never really know her true ending, would have to relegate this mystery, along with why My So-Called Life was canceled after one season, to the ages. I admit, at the time, not having closure to the conundrum of her last whereabouts bothered me. Since it had happened in 1937 however, more than forty years before my adolescence, an absolute ETERNITY of years to my younger self, I assumed the mystery would never be resolved. Apparently, I’d just have to live with that unsatisfying ending.
The experience would be good practice for the future.
As it turns out, the universe may have granted me a reprieve on this one, as a half a million dollar investigation has recently led to the discovery of a mirror, button, zipper, and several shards of bone on the remote island of Nikumaroro, a location almost thousands of miles south of Hawaii. Despite the fact that the Brits managed to lose track of a skeleton discovered on this tiny postcard of land just three years after the crash (I’ve since forgiven them as there was a world war going on after all), this miraculous find may lead to a definitive answer regarding Earhart and Noonan’s combined fate. It’s been seventy years, millions and millions have been spent on an attempt at reaching a final truth, and to date, there are naysayers who claim it’s impossible for any conclusion other than that a confluence of unfortunate circumstances relegated these two brave souls to the vast and unforgiving waves of the Pacific. Their dual demise, and what caused it, as yet remains ambiguous.
Remind you of any other universal uncertainties?
Yesterday I watched as my almost eight-year-old child conducted his own exploration that wielded for him exquisite treasure, namely an infant’s toy he hasn’t played with in years, one summarily abandoned by his own brother during the decade prior. He had been in what I like to call “bear stage” all morning, with nothing appeasing him, consumed by the demons in his mind that render him alternately mired in his perseverations and engulfed in despair, or anger, from time-to-time. Usually, when he’s a captive to these moods, I try to derail him from his compulsions to reorganize and recatologue because he can’t ever seem to force his configurations into coherent order. His attempts, sadly, seem only to leave him in greater distress.
This morning, however, I’m also dealing with his somewhat cranky sibling, and I’ve left him to the comfort of the closet, where indeed his needs seem to be sanctified. He has unearthed this tiny remnant of his childhood, is cupping it happily in his hands, repeating its siren song of beeps into his ear over, and over, and over. He is immediately transformed by his discovery, replete with joy at this memento from his “youth”. This tiny plastic cube, with its accompanying keys and sonorous noises will, while not solving what caused it, keep his dark side at bay for a while. Its acquisition is palliative, not remotely contributing to the origin of why on this day he requires either order, or the discovery of an old friend, to dissipate his gloom.
In just a few more months, the DNA results from those infinitesmal scraps of bone from that remote patch of land may yield proof of origin, an absolute certitude that only science can fully render. Even if those fragments lead to a positive identification of those fearless explorers we will never know for certain the cause of their crash, how long they lived in exile, how they died, their last thoughts on earth. We will never really know the whole story.
The news is also full these days of possible reasons for the birth of autism, theories touting rogue mitochondria, vaccines, or the overuse of cell phones by multi-tasking mothers, while embryonic cells do their job of replicating to completeness in a darkened womb. Perhaps one day I’ll know how this situation came to pass for this particular child, what possible combinations of genes and environmental influences combined to alter the connections in his brain, and the trajectory of our family’s life. In the future, I may have a name for the culprit and its companions, or the reasons for the derailment of synapses gone awry. I know that ultimately Justin’s mind holds the key to this discovery, and it is some solace to me that perhaps someday I might know the pathway to this disorder, the steps that occurred to bring us to this often impossible place.
But I am remain aware, that even if I one day comprehend the science, I will never know exactly why.