Lost Treasure

There’s no pile of riches. No treasure map. Certainly no One-Eyed Willie. But shiver me timbers if “The Goonies” didn’t actually have a glimmer of truth to it.

In case you missed the news, National Geographic recently reported that a dozen timbers from a 17th-century Spanish galleon – the Santo Cristo de Burgos – were found off the Oregon coast. That by itself would be pretty cool since the ship had disappeared after leaving the Philippines in 1693.

But the news coverage exploded thanks to a Hollywood connection. Tales of the shipwreck survived among the Native Americans, with later settlers spinning off legends of sunken treasure. Those in turn inspired Steven Spielberg to make “The Goonies,” the 1980s movie about children hunting pirate gold.

Confession time: I’m not a huge Goonies fan, which will probably cost me my “Child of the ‘80s” geek cred. But the connection between a 1690s ship and a 1980s film fascinates me.

You see, in the words of a young Sean Astin, “Goonies never say die!” And apparently, neither do stories.

In a day when so much can be researched, pinned down and verified, it’s easy to forget that stories have a life of their own. They’re strands of memory that defy the line between fact and fiction, often taking a seed of reality and spinning it into something unforgettable.

But as the legends and myths and heroes rise, the piece that started it all becomes a buried treasure:  lost, forgotten, maybe even denied to exist. Was there a British war leader that set the tales of King Arthur in motion? Or a highway robber with a sense of style that kindled later legends of Robin Hood? Even in less time, it’s easy for memory to change to make a better story: the psychologist Ulric Neisser famously told how he remembered hearing of Pearl Harbor attack during a radio baseball game , only to realize decades later that no one plays baseball in December.

So when the treasure of truth suddenly reappears, it’s almost magical. You can start to see how the story began and what grew from it, making both a little more wonderful. It might be the ancient city of Troy, rescued from mythical status by a 19th-century archaeologist. It might be the Santo Cristo, giving reality to a vessel that had long sailed the imagination.

And years, decades, centuries from now … it might even be us.

We live our stories now. Each of us shares and shapes memory, building our perceptions of the world into a personal tale that  explains the world around us. And even in our own lifetimes, we see those stories evolve and collide and change … though we don’t always realize how much they’ve changed until we find ourselves struggling with an inconvenient fact that doesn’t fit the narrative.

When our own time has passed, how much more will those stories transform?

It’s a little humbling to consider. And yet, it can be comforting as well. Even if our copious records become lost or meaningless to a far-future generation, something inspired by us may still fire the imagination and grow beyond what we can see.

And maybe, just maybe, some timbers of truth will wash onto the shore.

Or does that sound a little Goonie?

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