The Origin of Cartography

(This essay was born out of the 10-day writing challenge.)


The morning light cascades through the kitchen skylight like soft, fresh linens. I hold my hands out, palms facing down to instinctually inspect the quality of my homemade manicure, and then palms facing up to watch the shadow of this movement dance with the pale light. I think about the night before, the three of us lightly buzzed from the chilled red wine, giggling at his sister reading our palms. She spoke our fates with feigned confidence as her fingers traced the life line, marriage line, money line, inducing more laughter from its ticklish effect.


I remember being bewildered noticing how our palms wrinkle in the same way. Odd isn’t it? How is it that hands, which are capable of such a breadth of endeavors - shaping wet clay into divine proportions, grasping a child’s hand to scuttle across the crosswalk, reloading a weapon to enact a worst instinct, forming complete thoughts to converse with those who live in silence - all fold in such a way that our creases appear identical. So similar that we can fantasize, mythologize about them, transforming our palms into folklore to appease the human desire to chart our futures. To conquer uncertainty.


We are constantly wrestling with uncertainty. I see it in myself most embarrassingly in the number of times I’ve sat across from a fortuneteller. I see right through her charade, still I indulge. The left side of my brain rolling its eyes as it listens to the right side asking with childlike wonder, “And then what happens?”


We flip coffee cups to find these etchings of truth. Maybe that’s the origin story of cartography. Clean lines and labels we can chart and follow on this celestial terrain. Wild topography we can domesticate, like a coyote we can teach to play fetch.


I wonder what the long term effects are of sustained loss. Ambiguous loss. Collective loss. Loss we brace ourselves to endure more of, while being entirely unsure of how it could possibly get worse. We are told to look out for a cough, fever, loss of taste and smell, difficulty breathing. But there’s a lesser-talked-about side effect that hovers in the air like a mushroom cloud slowly dissipating into the atmosphere. Each droplet crystallizing as a hug frozen in mid-air, a herd of airplanes gathering dust. ‘Save The Date’ becoming a comically impossible string of words.


I unfurl my hand’s aching grip on the pen. Some creases appear deeper. What meaning can I ascribe to this imagery? What comfort can I manufacture for myself out of this mythology?


The deeper the crease of the life line, the more fully the depths of life are felt? Or is that just the physical result of writing. Of noticing. To notice the present so consciously that you become a deep sea diver in the ocean of our own existence. If you rush through with impatience, breathing too quickly, you use up your life force, forcing to return to the surface after a shallow experience.


But with the grace to wise up to the fact that you’re not - and never have been - in control, you can act within the bounds of what you have and go deep. You can withstand the pressure differential and experience magnificence comparable to catching a view of the earth from a space shuttle’s window.


The light has changed hue, but the creases remain the same. This time I notice not where they lead, but how deep they become by cupping my hands ever so gently, smiling as I realize I have formed a gesture of prayer.