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Authentic Discovery (11/17/08)

Can we ever really and truly experience discovery? Or have things such as photographs and television taken the ultimate accomplishment of that experience from our grasp?

Consider your first view of something like the Grand Canyon. It’s amazing. As one man said to someone on the other end of his cell phone call when Duane and I visited this summer, “Hey, babe. I’m standing on the edge of the biggest ditch in the world.” It was impressive, to be sure. But really–you’ve already seen the Grand Canyon, or images of it, at least. You know what to expect as you’re winding down that final five mile track toward the ultimate goal. You have a vision in your mind, an idea of what to expect.

Think about how different an experience it would have been for the first settlers and explorers of the West. They’re traveling along; maybe they send a few scouts ahead to check out the terrain and report back, and all of a sudden, they come upon the biggest ditch in the world. It had to have freaked them out a little, don’t you think? I mean, how are they going to get the stagecoaches across that? What an experience of absolute, authentic discovery. A first time vision, untainted by any prior conception of what they believed it might resemble.

How few such genuine experiences we have. I can remember Lawson’s first glimpse of the ocean–he was around two years old, I believe. I actually have a photo of it, somewhere….I’ll have to try to dig it up and post it sometime, if it’s digital. It’s wide-eyed, holy awe. He’s spellbound, captivated by the pull and push of the waves, the roar of them as they crash upon the sand. He doesn’t know what to think. He has no prior set of experiences by which to categorize and explain this strange creature, no rational means by which it should exist. At first it was cool; then it was simply scary. That is a vision of authentic discovery.

So do we live in a bubble? Protect ourselves from the cynicism of having our discovery spoiled by the assault of constant imagery? Better, I think, to just embrace discovery with the openness of a child’s vision sometimes, instead of that adult ennui–“Standing by the biggest ditch in the world…”

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