Saturday, June 23, 2012

TOO CLOSE TO SEE – As If For the First Time

(This is the fifth post in my series of reflections, As If For the First Time, describing the most mundane of daily activities through a fresh lens, one of innocence and wonder.)

When I was a boy, an up-and-coming comedian—later turned actor, director and producer—named Andy Griffith gained fame for "What It Was, Was Football," his description of an American football game through the eyes of a country bumpkin who'd never seen the game before.
One bunch got (the funny lookin' little pumpkin) and it made the other bunch just as mad as they could be! And Friends, I seen that evenin' the awfulest fight that I ever have seen in all my life! They would run at one another and kick one another and throw one another down and stomp on one another and grind their feet in one another and I don't know what-all, and just as fast as one of 'em would get hurt, they'd tote him off and run another one on!
PHOTO: Ames, Iowa Historical Society

In the decades since, that bit has come to mind a hundred times as I've learned, little by little, to give small wonders their due, to see them, as much as possible, as if for the very first time.

For, you see, I'd noticed—and continue to notice—an awful lot of people acting strangely blase about new discoveries that clearly would have knocked their socks off when they were kids.

I've never quite trusted anyone, including myself, who insulated himself so from curiosity and wonder.

So what happens to people to suppress that young, fresh, impressionability we're all born with? Part if it, I'm sure, is just a natural tendency to take for granted things our minds no longer have to expend any energy processing. That blase, been-there, done-that attitude also seems to be a hallmark of the young and/or insecure—people trying just a little too hard to prove their wisdom and maturity.

Whatever the reason, I've never quite trusted anyone, including myself, who insulated himself so from curiosity and wonder. If being a bit childish and having more questions than answers is the price, then I'm reaching for my wallet every time!

I'm fortunate enough to have travelled to a few places around the world, places with different landscapes, climates and cultures. It's been easy for me to experience the wonders of life in such places as if I were seeing them for the first time… because, in most cases, I was.

Things like the glow-in-the-dark trails of dolphins rocketing through bioluminescent plankton in the Sea of Cortez. Like the exquisite smell of jasmine on a warm August evening in Seville. Like the humble plant (mimosa podica) I saw in Costa Rica, which recoils and curls up to the touch. Like the thundering, guttural cries of howler monkeys or the flamboyant splendor of the illusive quetzal bird.

It's one thing to be awestruck when things are new and exotic; it's another thing altogether when you want to experience the same amazement with things you see all the time. And that's what my musings here are intended to be all about: finding wonder even in the simplest, most familiar things.

You can't change who you are or where you live, but you can change the way you see.

How does one do that? I try to imagine myself always the visitor, just as I'm the visitor when I travel. I try to remember that, as familiar as a robin might seem to me, to a stranger it might be stunningly exotic. I imagine eavesdropping on that visitor's email or call home: …and we saw this one bird that seemed just a dull, grayish brown all over, but suddenly it turned and flew away and I could see its whole breast was bright orange and it had these elegant little white dots on its wing tips!

Don't let yourself get complacent about all the amazing wonders that surround you every day. You can't change who you are or where you live, but you can change the way you see.

See freshly, creatively and, as I like to say, generously. Give even the most familiar of wonders the benefit of that generosity. And remember that all of these everyday things, though you may have seen them a hundred times, were indeed brand new to you when you were a child. Now and then, put aside your schedules, your preoccupations and, yes, your indifference, and be that child.

Don't concede wonder to anyone or any place.

To those who still feel wonder lives anywhere but at home, here's what I say: Show off your constant tropical climate, and I'll strut the abiding rhythms, the stirring beauty of my changing seasons. Your ocean and palm trees are nice, but behold my landscape blanketed in pure, dazzling white snow.

Mention your swaying palms and I'll give you rolling hills ablaze in orange, red and gold. Boast of your jasmine or bougainvillea and I'll tout my block-long thicket of luxuriant lavender flower clusters, all breathing the heavenly scent of lilac. Offer me your quetzal and howler monkeys and I'll return the favor with an indigo bunting and a moose.

Get my drift? Just because you may live, as I do, in what some have described as a pretty flat landscape and a harsh climate—or let's say you live in the desert, where lush is a word reserved for someone with a drinking problem—don't concede wonder to anyone or any place.

Remember, no matter where you live, no matter how commonplace your surroundings may have become for you, they are, indeed, wonders. The difference between seeing them with a yawn or with jaw dropped in awe is your openness, your humility, your expectation of wonder.


Anonymous said...

Admit it is not easy to see beyond the "ordinary" but your columns are proof that it is worth the effort. Keep up the keen observations!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Anonymous -- Thanks for the very welcome encouragement! You don't know how much I appreciate it...and you!

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