One of the benefits of middle age is that experience rewards even the most obtuse among us with perspective. Over time, it becomes easier to decide between what’s important and what will turn out to be a passing fancy, between an event that merits attention and one that will be forgotten.
Which explains why, firmly ensconced in that in-between stage of life, I’ve been wondering what message I would put in a bottle tossed out to sea.
The other day I listened, fascinated and amused, to an NPR story about Capt. Sean Bercaw, who had thrown hundreds of message-bearing bottles into the ocean during his travels and received dozens of responses, sometimes years later.
He began when he was 10 years old and his family set off on a 3 1/2-year voyage around the world. Later, as a naval officer and then while working on a school ship, he continued to release bottles, his notes more formal as he explained that he was conducting an experiment on ocean currents.
It’s a practice as ancient as glass, a time-honored and quixotic attempt to reach out, to connect. If the response to Bercaw’s story is any indication, the allure of a grimy bottle with a handwritten note remains strong, even in this age of instant communication. There’s a certain romance to it, I suppose, a dreamy-eyed gamble and hope for human contact across the unknown. Currents can be fickle, and a bottle can take a long time, a very long time, to be retrieved.
Oh, but the joy, the surprise, when found!
Last summer, a long-lost message was found in Vermont. Sean Keown had thought the bottle he had set adrift in a river with a buddy 35 years earlier was lost — until he got a call from 14-year-old Justin Shepard. The recovery inspired Keown to search for the childhood pal who had helped launch the bottle from a favorite swimming hole.
I read about a couple who spotted a champagne bottle with a note while beachcombing in Alaska. Turns out it had been thrown into the sea by another couple on their honeymoon 20 years earlier. When Ashley and Seth Cooper tracked them down, the second couple were not only still married but also still happy — a feat worthy of celebration.
So what would I celebrate? What insightful message would I pen to a stranger who might get it decades later and miles away?
I’d include a photo of my family with a caption that is self-explanatory: Happiness and headache. I’d jot a proverb that describes my life more accurately than a multipage biography: When there is no wind, row.
And, in a nod to midlife maturity, I’d assure the recipient what all of us want to know, whoever we are, wherever we go: Fellow castaway, you’re not alone.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.