- By Lt. Tim McMillan
"Today's The Day"...
One of the most inspirational people to have ever come into my life, happened to have a persistent and unyielding desire to succeed, that was born in a hurricane that destroyed the Florida Keys. This particular hurricane, that would spark a series of events that ebbed and flowed from tragedy to triumph, actually just so happened to occur 359 years before I was born.
Mel Fisher was born and raised in Indiana. For a large part of his early life, Mel was a chicken farmer. Remarkably, even though he had spent the first half of his life as a Midwestern farmer, Mel eventually would move to California and open up the first scuba diving shop in the entire state. That in itself is impressive, however, that is not the most notable entry he would make in annuals of history. Rather, Mel Fisher's name ultimately would forever be synonymous with, "Treasure Hunter."
In 1622, the Spanish treasure ship The Nuestra Señora de Atocha sank off the Florida Keys. When she sank, the Atocha took with her, 40 tons of gold and silver coins and 70 pounds of emeralds. For three hundred and sixty-three years the Atocha kept her bounty hidden from the world. Now, had it not been for Mel Fisher, the Atocha's prizes would probably still be serving as a refuge for the world's sea creatures. However, on July 20, 1985, Mel's son, Kane Fisher’s voice would come over the marine radio in the Mel Fisher's Treasure Salvage office and say, "Put up the charts. We found the mother lode." For Mel Fisher, and his group of treasure hunters, 1:05 pm that summer day was, "the day." The reward for Mel’s resolve was the largest single treasure find in history, a haul worth over $400 million dollars.
Make no mistake, the Atocha had not been kind in giving up her riches. In fact, Mel with his family had dived the waters off the Florida Keys for sixteen years in search of the famous Spanish galleon. In the process, Mel would lose his son Dirk, daughter-in-law Angel, and diver Rick Gage, after their boat sank due to a problem with the bilge pump. However, every day for sixteen years, 5,840 days, Mel would start his day by saying, "Today's the day."
I was 17-years old when Mel Fisher passed away. However, his legacy would have a lasting impact on me. With an ancestral lineage to Blackbeard the pirate, I always had a fascination with maritime history. However, it was the tenacity and persistent optimism that would spark a kindred affection and keen interest with me in Mel Fisher. Through some serendipitous friendships, I would find myself in possession of some of the treasures Mel had brought up from the Atocha's hull. However, it wasn’t Spanish Reales, musket balls, or emeralds that would be the greatest treasure I would ever get from Mel Fisher. Instead, the greatest riches I would ever gain from him was in the wisdom of three words. “Today’s the day.”
At times, my life can feel like I walk a very difficult path. I don’t consider myself to be unique in this regard at all. At the end of the day, the reason that humans tend to be self-serving creatures is because to attempt to be legitimately altruistic is a widely painful endeavor. Whenever you make an effort to care about others, especially others who you share only the kinship of being human, it can be emotionally taxing and difficult. When you choose to actually care about the suffering, anxiety, pain, hardships, and difficulties of others, you end up taking a piece of their grief with you. Honestly, feeling the pain of others is a necessity in order to have the emotional investment necessary to fight and stand up for people. It is not as if one can ever be numb to the outcries, if one truly desires to see change.
Sometimes, recently I have wondered to myself, “are you actually insane?” I mean when viewing things from the outside looking inward, I realize that I am a white, male, police officer. Basically, I am the epitome of virtually every social classification that has the easiest path in life. The only one I am lacking is wealth. Which could be because I wasn’t born rich, or the fact that I’ve never necessarily had any real love for money. Understandably, I am Jewish, so that indeed inherently places me in the “minority” column in America. However, with blue eyes and a Scottish last name like McMillan, I could easily go into Crypto-Jew status. I mean seriously! What’s the worst that happen if the country slid off the rails into being a police state? Let’s be honest, it’s not too shabby living in a police state, when you are the police, right?
However, I have always had no problem looking inward to myself and considering who am I really? Is a white, male, really who I am? Does that distinguish what is in my heart? What it is that represents my soul? What about being a police officer? Is being a cop, really who I am? Does it define my existence? In the end, the answer to all of those self-reflecting questions is no. None of those attributes represent that inner part of me, that would exist beyond those mortal confines. So ultimately, it is merely a strange prank that God has played on me by outwardly defining me as who I am. Because, who I really am, could never simply just be selfish and take advantage of any system that only benefited me.
That doesn’t mean that this dualistic conflict of self and inner-self, doesn’t come at a sacrifice. Now, I feel no self-pity for that, and in fact, it is something I have come to find oddly comforting. I think anyone in a similar position begins to accept happiness often doesn’t come for what they can get for themselves. Rather, happiness becomes the measurement of reward based on what you can do for others.
Many nights I go to sleep with the stories of young Black males being shot and killed. Members of the gay community being persecuted and oppressed. Hispanics being stereotyped and Muslims being hated and feared. Of course, this is all coupled, often times with instances of seething disdain for the outer me, and the profession I represent. In order to mitigate this, I have to moderate my own emotions so as not to became self-loathing or equally as problematic, becoming self-absorbed. It is a bazaar realm that at times feels like being a fish who endures a life of jumping out of the water to the point of gasping for air and then jumping back in for relief.
When I invested considerable time and effort into determining how to make a difference beyond simply sharing words and feelings, and being operationally a message for change, I created www.thefourtreesproject.org. I poured into The Four Trees Project, faith and enduring belief that I could help design, “a new way.” I shared my ideas and my passions for this grandiose endeavor and brought in others who possessed the skills and knowledge that could make it something special. However, having a vision and inspiring others to be a part of it, is only one-half of the equation. Ultimately, when one is trying to grow something from the ground up, they quickly realize that having faith in you and having a willingness to have fiscal faith in you, are two dramatically different things. So in essence, you learn the proverbial virtues of planting a seed and then having to wait for the rain to arrive. Which, can at times leave one feeling a symbolic connection to the Atocha. A ship helpless to the thrashing waters and at the mercy of the uncontrollable waves of the sea.
In the end, no matter how discouraged I may feel, with what seems like a suffocating world around me, I always try to ensure I wake up each morning and give thanks for the opportunity of a new day. Because, with every new day, comes the belief that, “Today’s the day.” What that “day” actually means, I’m not really sure. I just stand by the belief that there is a better day. A day that represents the tipping point of change, where my children will grow up in a world where it is an absolute conviction that all people are created equal and are treated as such. Maybe that isn’t tonight. Additionally, it will not come tomorrow. However, I believe that day will come, and the morning sun will rise with the realization that, “Today’s the day” for us all.