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A Message to the Universe

February 9, 2011

Published by Action and Fitness Magazine, 2008

This explains why our wedding invites are in bottles.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” Like him, I believe that if I want something bad enough the winds will waltz with the waves to deliver my granted wish. But how do I let the wind know of my whims? How does the ground beneath my restless feet know where I want to go? Some may shout it out to the world at the top of a mountain. Others may sit in a space of silence and whisper their desires to God, while I, well, I send a message in a bottle.

While some people collect seashells from their travels, I collect bottles. It has been an obsession of mine since I first saw a green bottle on the beach of Obella. I like the idea of a lonesome bottle, carrying a precious message, travelling through oceans and time to an unknown destination, and finally into the hands of a perfect stranger. He might or might not care, but for that brief moment, when he unscrews the cover, slides out the note, and reads my thoughts and enters my head, we’re connected. The anonymity of it all only adds to the romance, plus the idea that once you’ve thrown it out to the sea, it is no longer yours, the same way you surrender your dreams to the powers that be and wait for them to be thrown back, granted.

bottle found in the Marshall Islands

I don’t know what happened to the bottle I found by the bushes in the shore of Obella. It was colored emerald green with Japanese inscriptions at the base.  I figured it was washed up on the shore from the Pacific Ocean. Obella is a tiny island in the Marshall Islands in Micronesia, inhabited only by lonely sea turtles and old ghosts roaming the deserted cemetery at the heart of the jungle. Ironically, the cemetery is the only sign of civilization in Obella.

Surrounded by impossibly clear waters, Obella can be reached by boat from the neighbouring atolls that surround a lagoon. On low tide, you can literally walk from a neighbouring island to Obella. If you forge through the thick vegetation, you will find a small cove jealously guarded by a throng of pandanus and plumeria trees. Here, if you lie still for a moment, on a white stretch peppered with powdery crystals flirting with the sun’s rays, you will hear the breeze whisper secrets of old, when the Americans fought against the Japanese to claim ownership of this paradise several full moons ago. I’d like to think the bottle was discarded by a Japanese soldier while hiding under the shelter of a plumeria tree, waiting for a G.I. to wander past. More than likely the bottle could have been thrown by a drunken fisherman tottering on a Japanese fishing trawler that came through the Central Pacific a few days earlier.

Choosing the former as my bottle’s origins, I wrote down my wishes on a piece of paper, put the paper in the bottle and screwed the cap tightly back on. On our way back to Roi Namur, the island where we came from, with the boat running at an even speed, and Tom Petty belting out “Into the great wide open”, I threw the bottle into the Pacific Ocean. The waves eagerly lapped at the bottle, wanting to know the wishes contained inside. I wished that I would spend the rest of my life with my best friend who was driving the boat then. I prayed that we would have many adventures, travelling together. Just a few months later, after travelling to six provinces in twelve days, he proposed to me on top of Calvary hill in Leyte with the statue of the Sacred Heart looming over us, standing witness to our whispered promises.

Since then, every time I travelled, I would look for an empty bottle on the shore, waiting to deliver another message.   A few months ago I found a clear bottle with a rubber cap  hidden between rocks at a beach in Sabtang, Batanes. This time it had Chinese inscriptions on the cap. Batanes lies where the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea merge. I imagined the bottle came from Taiwan, Honk Kong, or China. When I opened the bottle, the sharp scent of gin escaped from the rim.

As usual I wrote down my wishes on a paper, sealed it into the bottle, and then threw the bottle back to the sea. Later, a little commotion ensued by the shore. There was excited chatter from my caravan, crowding over something they found brought in by the tide. Some of them took pictures, excited by the fact that they found a “real” message in a bottle, perhaps cast by someone stranded on an island somewhere. Before they could open it, I ran and swiped my precious bottle away, ruining their fantasies altogether.

I zealously held on to the bottle as our boat crossed the treacherous South China Sea. We spent a good twenty minutes by the shore as our boat battled against the waves, refusing to let us go.  We haven’t even left yet, but half of our group was already suffering sea sickness. We were finally released but not before a huge wave crashed over our boat, rocking it like a plastic toy and causing some of the passengers to scream and beg our boatmen to head back, but they ignored our pleas. It was an intolerable thirty-five minute ride as I braved the screaming wind blowing through my drenched clothes and the splashing seawater burning my eyes. Holding down the fear that threatened to surge from my throat, I looked out, never taking my eyes off the lighthouse from afar, a sign that land was close, then I realized I was still clutching dearly to my bottle as if it were a life saver. I threw the bottle into the dark waters, praying under my breath that I might live to see my granted wishes.

I have yet to see the bottle again. Often I search for it in the landscape of my dreams, around the edges of my adventures and on every crevice of the lands I explore, never once losing faith that my message will soon be delivered.

If you find one of my bottles washed up on your shore, please let me know.

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