Five hundred twenty-eight years ago, after he sailed the ocean blue, Christopher Columbus discovered America, or so said the history textbooks of my childhood.
On Monday, we celebrate Columbus Day, which is, for many of us, a day off from work. I'm not sure many of us will be thinking about Columbus on his day, because I'm quite sure we'd be willing to celebrate a boll weevil infestation if it meant a day off.
While I was taught that Columbus discovered the New World, there are a couple of problems with this story that have become obvious as I have gotten older and, presumably, wiser. First, Columbus didn't realize he was in a New World. He was trying to find another way to get to India, and that's where he first thought he was. And second, he didn't really discover America since, as we now understand, there were already people here.
Still, I always liked the story of Columbus as a kid, and I was always intrigued by the fact that so many people thought the world was flat until Columbus sailed away and didn't fall off the edge of the planet.
I've always pictured Columbus as something of a rebel who stood up for what he believed, even if it wasn't a popular belief. I suspect more than a few of Columbus' friends even thought he was a nut.
"You're a nut," they said as they sat around the bar watching football on the big screen TVs.
“I’m telling you,” Columbus said, “the world is round. Like a meatball.”
“Have another beer," his friends said, "and tell us another story.”
“I’ll prove to you the world is round," Columbus declared. “I’ll convince Queen Isabella to give us a bunch of money and three ships. Then we’ll set sail and you’ll see that I’m right.”
“But how will you know which direction to set sail?” one friend asked.
“Why don’t you Google directions to the New World?” another friend suggested.
“Dude, I can’t Google it. The Internet won’t be invented for another 500 years.”
So Columbus convinced the queen to finance his trip. He hired a crew, and they set sail. Five weeks later, on October 12, 1492, they found land, a small island that is now part of the Bahamas.
Columbus and his crew came ashore, checked into the Four Seasons resort and immediately called room service.
Today, it has become politically correct to say that Columbus conquered America. I don't think that's completely fair to ol' Chris.
Sure, Columbus' discovery led to the arrival of more Europeans. And from their ultimate arrival came the decision to push Native Americans off the land so it could be developed and great cities could be built. And as a result, we now have high-rise buildings, shopping malls and smog.
But blaming Columbus for all of that is like blaming the Founding Fathers for the mess in Congress today. Just because they had a good idea years ago doesn't mean someone can't come along and screw it up.
And that's what has happened, I think, to Columbus' legacy. There's no way he could have envisioned all that later happened in America when he set foot here. So it's unfair to place all the blame at his feet.
Don't feel too sorry for him, though. Remember, he did get to end his long journey with a vacation in the Bahamas. We should all be so lucky.