Sleeping quarters was an eight by eight coffin on the seventy-foot yawl. It was after dark and I was thinking about my new project of installing a depth finder on the underside. Part of my assignment was to help overhaul the ship for its 1976 summer journey down the Adriatic Sea from Dubrovnik, Croatia to a port in Egypt. It was going to carry four US Government representatives as appointed officials to insure the Egyptian Government that all was good between them.
Sleep was calling, but James A. Michener's novel Centennial in paperback sat next to me on my lumpy, flat mattress, demanding that I start reading it. Flipping the tome between my palms was intimidating. The 928 or so pages had small print and the chapters covered 136 million years. I didn't know if I could finish reading the book by summer's end much less start reading it at all.
I had arrived two weeks previous, and had the privelidge of meeting many Croatians in the small communist country where Marshall Tito had entertained some commercialism and free-enterprise within the township of Dubrovnik. I studied Yugoslavian history before I had arrived and realized the entire country harbored an extreme violent past between religious, ethnic and racial groups, as well as many other factions from their neighbors.
Michener's Centennial took my attention away from my thoughts about the violent Yugoslavian history. I began reading, applying quick finger tip traversing down the paragraphs, between the chapters, trying to scan 136 million years getting caught up in dramatic events, violent conflicts of the American West where Native Americans, men and women and foreigners from all walks of life shaped the country. I read the entire Centennial epic over a peiod of one month, enthralled with the parallels it had in common with Yugoslavian history.
That summer was an enlightening whirlwind of adventure for me, comparing Michener's Centennial with a world six thousand miles distant from the US. I finally understood that governments and people share common ground between them, that faith and hope on many different levels equated to family love and property ownership, that emotions can be tempered with the offering of friendship and prosperity, that by eliminating the ingredients of greed, power and the idea of superiority all can achieve a better understanding of the human intellect.
I didn't get to crew on the yawl to Egypt that hot summer. I was enlisted, and refusal was not an option, to help collect historical Croatian art pieces for storage preservation in Marshal Tito's monastery, hiding them from Serbian militarists who wanted to destroy them. Everything is circuitous even greed and power. Michener's Centennial was one small ingredient in a huge recipe that was a catharsis of how I would live my future in a world idolizing history.