Thoughts From Dr. Joe: The Admiral of the Ocean Sea

There was a time when the New World did not exist. The sun set in the west in an ocean where no man dared to venture. The leading geographers of the day believed that monsters guarded the edge of the world and that it was impossible to cross an ocean of 22,000 nautical leagues, equivalent to 66,000 miles.

In 1492, more than 500 years ago, Spain was a nation gripped by fear and superstition. Ruled by obsessive Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile and their ruthless inquisition that persecuted men who dared to dream.

Science could not explain the reality of possibility. The world was inert, waiting for a dreamer.

Christopher Columbus, a determined navigator from Genoa, Italy, challenged the monarchs and —driven by his sense of destiny, greed, and narcissism — crossed the sea of darkness in search of honor, gold, fame and the greater glory of God.

Oct. 12 was Columbus Day. Because Christopher Columbus' reputation has not survived the scrutiny of history, there was little celebration. He never set foot on the main land, nor did he discover America. Leif Ericson, a Norse explorer, established a colony on the coast of Newfoundland 500 years before Columbus arrived, so historical revisionists no longer honor his exploits as an explorer. They allege that he was a mercenary who exploited and enslaved the indigenous peoples of the New World.

Historians often interpret events by viewing history through contemporary eyes. History should be written in the context of the past, not the present. Filtering history through the progressive eyes of the moment prompts judgments that are not relative to the realities of the past.

Sean Mispagel, a history teacher at La Cañada High, states, "I think it is difficult for many people in our modern era to see events in the past through the eyes of the people that lived in that era and not our own eyes."

Christopher Columbus was no saint. He was like you and me; he possessed a duality for both good and evil. He was a visionary, a man of courage who went beyond the edge of the world to find what was out there.

"I will not be told what to be afraid of," he said. "I want to find out for myself."

Defying the superstitions of the inquisition he said, "Go and find out what the world is about and tell me something I can accept."

I want to know the makeup of a man who would say, "I want to travel all over the seas; I want to get behind the weather."

On Aug. 3, 1492 Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain with three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. For 10 weeks he and a crew of 90 mariners braved tempest-tossed seas searching for cities in the Indies that according to Marco Polo were made of gold. Provisions began to wane; much of their water was putrid. He convinced would-be mutineers that there was no turning back. The land is there, he decreed.

"Nothing that results from human progress is achieved through unanimous consent," Columbus said. "Those who are enlightened for others are condemned to pursue that light in spite of others."

As Oscar Wilde once wrote, "A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment, is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."

Columbus returned from the New World exulted as The Admiral of the Ocean Sea; however, political obscurity encircled him like an albatross.

It is often human nature to destroy the dreamer, the enlightened, the courageous and the most daring. Hemmingway said, "If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them; so of course it kills them."

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