Considered in this essay: "Let Us Proclaim the Mystery," from Waccamaw No. 2, Fall 2008
Every “true” story comes in as many versions as there are people who feel compelled to tell it. “Let Us Proclaim the Mystery,” my essay about the disappearance of the Brazilian Priest Adelir de Carli over the Atlantic Ocean in 2008, was inspired by my desire to get an account on the record that did not reduce his life, work, and death to a Darwin Award citation and nothing more.
Granted, Padre Adelir did emerge the victor of the 2008 Darwin Awards, and their characteristically trivializing interpretation of his demise seems worth including here:
A Catholic priest recently ascended to heaven on a helium host of party balloons, paying homage to Lawn Chair Larry's aerial adventure. […] This priest's audacious attempt to set a world record for clustered balloon flight was intended to publicize his plan to build spiritual rest stops for truckers. But as truckers know, sitting for 19 hours is not a trivial matter even in the comfort of your own lawn chair.
The priest did take numerous precautions, including wearing a survival suit, flying a buoyant chair, and packing a satellite phone and GPS. However, the late [priest] made a fatal mistake.
He did not know how to use the GPS.
The winds changed, as winds do, and he was blown inexorably toward open sea. He could have parachuted to safety while over land but chose not to. When the voyager was perilously lost at sea, he finally phoned for help--but rescuers were unable to determine his location since he could not use his GPS. He struggled with the unit as the charge on the cellphone dwindled and died. Instead of a GPS, the Priest let God be his guide.
Over the next few weeks, bits of balloons began appearing on mountains and beaches, indicating that God had guided him straight to heaven. Ultimately the priest's body surfaced, confirming that he had indeed paid a visit to his boss.
The kicker? It's a Double Darwin. Catholic priests take vows of celibacy. Since priests voluntarily remove themselves from the genepool, the entire group earns a mass Darwin Award. Adelir Antonio wins twice!
All of that, strictly speaking, is “true”—Adelir did die during an ill-fated cluster ballooning expedition on April 20, 2008 and his body was found in the ocean by oilrig workers on July 4 of the same year.
But I wanted to create a history that did not have its tongue quite so firmly in its cheek, and that examined the idea of what would possess someone to undertake a fund-raising adventure like that, as well as how the people left behind, on earth, might choose to interpret his fate. Adelir, to me, is something of a hero, but a hero who exemplifies the fact that bravery and generosity almost always contain elements of silliness and risk. I’m not religious, but still, Adelir, to me, was—and remains—as I said in the essay, cool: “[…] cool in a way the Church is not usually cool: a little bit Jackass, a little bit Cool Hand Luke, a little bit Christ.”