Friday, January 20, 2012

In Search of Paradise...

Yogi Berra said it best: “If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else.”

Berra, who quit school after the eighth grade, has a tendency toward malapropism and fracturing the English language. “It ain't over till it's over” is arguably his most famous example, often quoted. Simultaneously denying and confirming his reputation, Berra once stated, “I really didn't say everything I said.”

In April 2007, my wife and I took a road trip up Highway 1, California’s coastal route, to San Francisco. I must say, the beauty of the coastal route was romantic and filled with dizzying twists and turns—much like a good love story should be. I highly recommend it. My only caution is to plan your trip during off-season and definitely avoid July and August.

Bixby Bridge on Hwy 1
At that time, I was well into writing Flight into Darkness (my second novel) and I wanted to take a scouting trip to visit the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito—two key locations in the story.

It was during the return trip home (on the much faster route down I-5) that my wife and I started discussing the themes of Flight to Paradise (at the time the working title was A Love Once Lost). I was not completely happy with the title as I felt it implied a negative message by the word “Lost” when in fact it was a story of hope. As we dug deeper into the themes behind the story, I realized that it was about the journey of two hearts to satisfy their deepest desires.

I have read that many of the most successful novel titles (especially the classics) are metaphorical, or hold deeper meaning while exploring the theme: Catcher in the Rye, Valley of the Dolls, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Grapes of Wrath, and others. I tried to relate my story to some metaphorical word that could be used in the title. When I tried to think of a word that would best describe the most perfect place in the entire world, the word Paradise popped out. It could have been because, at the time, I was making weekly flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii and my mind was overcome by thoughts of the hundreds of giddy tourist I hauled to the Islands every week—a place most of them referred to as Paradise. Hawaii is nice, but I was looking for something more.

I guess it was my mind struggling with words when the two words Lost (from the original title) and Paradise crossed. The result was John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s epic poem originally published in 1667 was about the Biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. I thought, “That’s it!” What better description of Paradise than the Garden of Eden—a place of complete perfection where love was without fault. Further thought led me to meditate on a non-physical place—more of an emotional state of being where this feeling of relationship paradise might exist. Then it dawned on me. I turned to my wife and said, “I’ve got it! The title of the book is Flight to Paradise.” The word “flight” represents the journey of each person’s heart to find “Paradise”: The place where the desires of the heart are completely satisfied.

She asked what made me so sure. I told her that if there could ever be an emotional state of being—a non-physical place on Earth—that best describes the feeling of Paradise, it would be the relationship we have shared for the past 30 years (35 years on Sunday, January 22, 2012). If there ever was that “perfect someone” or “soul mate”, she is that person for me--she is my Paradise. I wrote the story as a story of hope in spite of failure.

When I returned home and continued to finalize Flight to Paradise, I stumbled on a story about the beautiful birds of Paradise. I included a quote in the front of the book.

Four centuries ago, John van Linschoten (1563-1611) wrote about the beautiful birds of Paradise (God’s birds) during his voyage to the East Indies. He wrote, “. . . no one has seen these birds alive, for they live in the air, always turning towards the sun, and never alighting on the Earth till they die.” The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace, 1869
Alfred Russel Wallace

The quote was referenced in The Malay Archipelago, the land of the orangutan and the bird of paradise by Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). The Malay Archipelago is the chain of 25,000 islands (archipelago) located between mainland Southeastern Asia and Australia; situated between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Wallace was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist. He had been studying some of Linschoten's writings when he came upon his findings of the paradise birds.

The quote struck me as the perfect metaphor for this story. We are God's birds in search of the one thing in this life that really matters—love. We need people in our lives and we need to be loved. Ironically, our need to be loved is the same need that causes us to remain loveless. In our search to be loved, it is only when love is given that we ultimately find the love we are looking to receive. Even The Beatles understood this truth—or at least Paul McCartney understood it. The last song recorded collectively by all four of The Beatles was The End. The writer, McCartney, wrote the line: “And in the end, the love you take (get) is equal to the love you make (give).” Lennon called it, “...a very cosmic, philosophical line.”

We live in a relational world. We can't live without others. Numerous studies have been conducted on the effects of solitary confinement. In the beginning there is simple loneliness. Then as time progresses, there is a slowing down, losing the ability to initiate behavior or organize around any kind of purpose. One might begin to hallucinate, becoming unable to think logically, followed by irrational anger and obsessing on trivial things—ultimately, full-blown psychosis.

As described by Linschoten, one would have to assume that the paradise bird was lost. You would think that the paradise bird would know how to find Paradise. But according to Linschoten, instead of finding Paradise, the bird wandered through the sky, always searching with no clear understanding of what exactly he is looking for, or how to find it; always turning toward the sun (following the setting sun into tomorrow, hoping to one day find Paradise), until ultimately dying in flight.

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Ironically, our need to be loved is the same need that causes us to remain loveless. In our search to be loved, it is only when love is given that we ultimately find the love we are looking to receive.

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"If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else.” Yogi Berra

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Paul McCartney, The Beatles

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Happy Anniversary to my beautiful, loving wife and best friend, Sue Marie. Thank you for showing me the way to Paradise. I love you! (Sunday, January 22)

“Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” Psalm 34:3

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