In 1949, the movie White Heat was released. It featured James Cagney as a criminal psychopath with the famous last scene atop a flaming refinery tower. “Made it Ma! Top of the world”. A huge explosion engulfed Cagney that ended his criminal career. Credits roll. I saw that movie on the Million Dollar Movie TV broadcast sometime in the 50’s. It was the only scene I remember and somehow it just stuck in my head.
A few days ago, Ingenuity, a helicopter on Mars, made the first flight on another planet. The Wright Brothers were invoked to mark a major milestone. Well, as far as we humans know. Maybe the Martians already accomplished it and subsequently left the planet in search of a better planet. In any case it was a great achievement. I do, however, wonder why they used the old school term “helicopter” in lieu of the now in vogue “drone”. I suspect that “drone”, when used by the government, may not have the favorable, non-threatening vision that “helicopter” does. Words matter.
The point here is our quest to get on top of things. We strive to get our heads above the crowd. To see the bigger picture, to envision our place in the wider world beyond our immediate reach. Nothing new here. In this regard the line drawings in Peru are intriguing. As far as it can be determined, the people who constructed these graphics never actually saw them the way we do now, from hundreds or thousands of feet in the air. I can only assume that they traveled in their minds to see what they constructed. Many think they were actually drawn by aliens (People from Mars on helicopters?). Others think they were like big HELP sand furrow signs on a remote island written by a shipwrecked sailor. How drawings of cats and birds relayed a need for help alludes me. Aliens looking for pets may have been intrigued enough to stop by and check the earth out. Did the line drawers know that the human female figure does not have the universal appeal as we assume?
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to make it up to the top the world, also in the 50’s, was asked why he climbed the tallest mountain (29,031 feet) in the world. He reportedly said, “Because it’s there”. Well sure, it was there but the real reason must have been because of the view. No one on earth could look down on him for that.
It is true that people like to get to the bottom of things also. Victor Vescovo was the first person to dive to the deepest point in any ocean by submarine, the Mariana Trench (35,853 feet) in 2019. “Going to the extremes, I believe is a natural inclination of man” said Vesvcovo. Perhaps, but the problem, however, is that there is no great view there. Beyond about 1000’ feet, perpetual darkness envelops everything. The glory goes to those who rise above the crowd and not to those who dive to get to the bottom.
Here in Eastern Caribbean, one of the activities enjoyed by cruisers is the hike up the volcanic mountains that form the islands. We have done some of these when the body was more willing and capable. At this point we are more like those ancient Peruvians. We can imagine what the view from the top could be even if we never hike there.
Which brings me back to the idea of reaching the top. Yes, we all want to reach the top. After all, isn’t that where Heaven is? There are dangers in such ambitions that can not be ignored. Certainly, Cagney was satisfied for the brief time he was on the top of the world. The helicopter on Mars enjoys the well-deserved accolades it is receiving but will (probably) never hang from the ceiling of the Smithsonian.
The recent eruption of Mount Soufriere on St. Vincent here in the Caribbean and evacuation of thousands of residents around the volcano reminds us of the danger of inhabiting “the top” for any duration. This may be the main lesson in such endeavors. The journey in the direction to the top is the important part of the journey. Reaching the summit, we risk the danger of its exploding beneath us. The view may be great. The perspective may be enlightening. The sense of accomplishment satisfying. It may, however, leave us with our head in the clouds, or worse, the start of our journey to get to the bottom of it all.