Of late, I’ve felt a bit like Julie Andrews (sans looks, voice or talent, of course), twirling through the colorful mountain meadows of my own endeavors, moved to warbling and joyous, if somewhat tuneless, song: “The hills are alive with so many wonderful things to do!” I’ve been busy, yes, but with remarkable things in what feels like a mid-life creative springtime!
Slowly, as I’ve connected with like-minded souls, our little nonprofit Learning is for Everyone, is rising from the obscurity of poorly defined but good intentions, to do great things, as we gradually and more cleanly mold our shared social visions. Sometimes you create something with nothing more than the germ of a thought and a vague notion of direction. If the time isn’t right (think Leonardo DaVinci and his flying machine) the effort becomes experience to draw upon later. If the time is right or if you can wait it out (think Macintosh), a vision can blossom in stunning beauty, or at least remarkable utility.
Maybe no one besides me is all that stunned by the beauty of our growing clarity of mission and focus, but I’m happy enough to warble in my imaginary meadow! I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of six months planning coming together in TEDxYouth@TampaBay 2011 on Saturday, and delighted that my hopes for a Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire are finally real enough for a social media presence. When we first founded Learning is for Everyone, one of our earliest visions was to create a magazine. Now our first issue of The Curiosity Driven Life is underway.
I love bringing together these community focused efforts, these showcases of the innovative and inventive – they’re like some super three dimensional social performance art, interactive celebrations of the spoken word, and the creative mind. It’s a crafting of living literature, curating a circue humanitae of infinite beauty.
What is it, I find myself wondering, that makes these experiences so interesting to me, so compelling? I ask the same thing when I look through the camera lens, at a world that reveals itself in so many subtle and nuanced ways as I change my angle of perspective. What is it that makes some things –from ideas to images – really stand out?
I went hiking with a friend recently, an equally enthusiastic shutterbug who’s as content as I to walk slowly through the woods and watch the play of light on leaves and angle for the perfect shot of a little brown mushroom while marveling at its delicate fluted edges. It took us two hours to hike less than a mile, a wonderful soothing two hours in the company of a like-minded observationist. She understands a long gaze into the muddy shallows of a creek, and appreciates in kind the individual reds and yellows of maples leaves against an otherwise dun background. By itself – mud. A single bright leaf brightly haloed in ripples – an organic canvas.
Artistically, that one image can make all the difference in the world that that one incident, without evidence to the contrary, might not, even if it should.
Consider the image of a little girl running naked and burned through the streets of Hiroshima after the atom bomb, of another little girl stoically walking to a school that didn’t want her there in the 60s; of a single man standing before a tank in Tiananmen Square, and most recently, of a Shanghai toddler, lying bleeding in on a street, ignored by as many as 18 passersby. All pivotal images that, hopefully, make most of us stop and think.
In the hubbub of our 21st century lives, it can hard to distinguish what’s important from the background noise of blaring media, to pick out that one thing that perhaps we should really pay attention to. But what kind of a world is so preoccupied that ordinary people fail to notice and help an injured child lying in the street. How could this not be the one thing in our field of view?
There’s a wonderful Zen koan that I’ve mentioned here before. An acolyte visits a wise man who shares a modest meal with him while they chat.
“What is the meaning of life?” the acolyte asks the master.
“Are you finished eating?” asks the master.
“Yes,” replies the student, eager for the secret.
“Then wash your bowl,” says the master. And that is the end of their discussion.
Because that’s really all there is to it. Wash your dishes. Take out your trash. Admire the view there and back. Be where you are.
While casting about in consideration of “that one thing”, I ran a contest on Fine Art America by that same title. Although the images entered all featured one focal point, they were all vastly different. But they were also all alike in one significant way: they each spotlighted something that caught the artist’s eye. That one thing is our own awareness, our ability to be moved by the beauty of the sturdy pony in the snow, or the singular, simple elegance a blue granite dipper, or by the way a cityscape suggests itself in the bristles of a red paint brush, or the way light glints off water or to hear music in each others’ voices, or find joy in every breath, simply because we’re able to draw it.
If we lose that awareness, or fail to cultivate it, if we live lives so jaded and isolated that we cannot meet one another’s eyes in passing or fail to be moved to help a child in the street, or fall short of appreciating the play of light and shadow on a late fall afternoon, or how rain sounds on a roof, then all is for naught. Tomorrow’s TEDxYouth event is an opportunity to exercise awareness – of oneself, of one another, of our shared human connections. I can’t think of any better gift to give one another, and especially to give our youth, than the gift of listening to them, and caring about what they have to say.
I hope they’ll continue to cultivate their awareness, of themselves and each other and the world around them, and help lead us into a future bright with intentionality and purpose, where we can all marvel freely at the simple beauty of leaves and granite dippers, and where we never fail to help a child who needs us.