This morning I was reading the Times and came across this article about Diana Nyad, a 61-year-old woman who is going to (attempt to) swim from Cuba to Florida in one continuous swim, unprotected by a shark tank. This swim (her second attempt – she tried once in 1978) is estimated to take about 60 hours, has drained her savings and might leave her $150,000 in debt, and along the way, well, I’ll just quote: “She will most likely hallucinate and endure the stings of countless jellyfish. Along the way, sea salt will swell her tongue to cartoonish proportions and rub her skin raw….”
Sounds delightful, right?
When I read something like this, about a person determined to do something that, were they forced to do it by someone else, would probably be considered a hostile act of torture (again, I bring up the ‘tongue swollen to cartoonish proportions’), I’m struck by a mixture of disbelief, awe, and just a touch of envy.
You see, most people have that moment when inspiration strikes, and they stare off into the middle distance and say, “At some point in my life, I would really love to [insert lofty life goal here].” This is not the time for mundane daily goals, like ‘repaint the bathroom’, or even slightly more ambitious tasks, like ‘read War and Peace’. No, this moment of misty dreaming is devoted to that goal you feel will somehow make you more human, that deep-seated ambition that many have shared, but few have accomplished.
Unless, of course, you are me. I seem to have been born without the chip required for dreaming big; maybe it’s that my pilgrim ancestors used up the last great ambition in the gene pool (notably, after the “no really, guys! Let’s get on this rickety ship and sail across this rough cold ocean to face harsh and unknown terrain! It’ll be great!!”, my people pretty much stayed put in the Plymouth area for another 16 generations), maybe it’s that my nearsighted eyes don’t do well with the middle distance anyway. But in any case, my goals are small and manageable – cozy little tchotchke goals where others have mountains. However, despite not having these goals, I have managed to collect a list of ‘Life Goals I Do Not Have’, with a short explanation as to why not.
1. Swim shark-infested waters from Cuba to Florida for 60 hours straight.
Again, CARTOONISHLY SWOLLEN TONGUE.
2. Climb Mount Everest.
British climber George Mallory was asked in 1924 why he wanted to climb the incredibly dangerous, highest mountain in the world, and famously answered “Because it’s there.” You know what else is there? My couch. And the survival rate is much, much higher.
3. Visit all seven continents at least once.
Really? Antarctica? Meh.
4. Write the Great American Novel.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see something I’ve written published. But I’d be just as happy writing the Perfectly Fine Swedish Novel.
5. Become President of the United States.
Oh HELL no. I feel enough stress when I’m asked whether I want my main course to come with fries or a side salad; making even one of the momentous decisions Presidents are called on to make every day would leave me a quivering mess curled in the fetal position on a corner somewhere. Not to mention the fact that I still consistently misplace Illinois on a map.
6. Run a marathon.
According to a sterling historical source (Wikipedia), the concept of the marathon is based on the ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides, who ran 26 miles from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He then immediately collapsed and died from exhaustion. I am intrigued, then, that anybody chose to pay tribute to this feat by attempting to repeat it yearly.
Now, I’m not saying that this won’t change, and I won’t wake up someday with dreams of reaching that snowy summit, or crossing that finish line, or being continuously stung by jellyfish as I hallucinate and sing Beatles songs to myself with my grotesquely swollen tongue. But somehow I suspect that these goals are not for me. If one of them is for you, though, then I say, with all my heart, go for it. I’ll be cheering you on from over here, on my couch.