My Facebook feed is aflutter with the accomplishment of Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old woman who swam the 110 miles from Cuba to the U.S. without a shark cage.
I may be a bit of a contrarian, but I usually fail to be impressed with these feats of physical endurance. People can train to do crazy things like run across continents and swim through shark-infested waters, but the question that always pops up for me is… why? What’s the point? I guess that marks me as a person who doesn’t particularly relish physical accomplishments.
That said, I understand that in a broader sense, every accomplishment can be met with a “Why?” Why write a book? What will it change? For that matter, why build a well or build an orphanage? Why get out of bed in the morning? Whether we struggle mightily or snuggle up in bed, everything is devoid of inherent meaning besides the one we make up. We all end up in the same place. If we think it’s helpful to build an orphanage, we are proud when we do it. If we think it’s a lifelong dream to write a book, we glow with the accomplishment of that. And yet it changes our fate not a whit.
So, in a sense, crossing the Florida Straits in a sunburned, sea-puffed body is no more or less nonsensical than sending out a manuscript to 100 agents and watching their rejections roll in. If what we value is sticking to it – long after the rational person would have given up – then what Ms. Nyad did was amazing. It’s less about the “what” she chose and more about the fact that she chose her “what” and stuck to it doggedly, even after 35 years of failure.
I admire her spirit even if the thing she chose to do doesn’t quite do it for me. I guess what I admire in her is that mysterious force that has driven mankind to stand upright, venture out of the savannah, build boats, make monuments. Why? We live in a universe in which nothing has inherent meaning and yet we work to create it, to move the goal post further away, just to prove to ourselves we can make it. What a plucky and foolish little race we are.