Friday, February 24, 2012

A Walk Through the Woods in Winter

"It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit." - Robert Louis Stevenson

     I once told someone that when I'm not holding Cheerio eating contests with myself, I'm usually running blindly through the woods on invisible quests of imponderable insignificance. They have to be quests, you see, because it runs contrary to my nature to go walking in the woods merely for the sake of walking in the woods. If I can convince myself that such a venture is not a mere venture, but actually an adventure, then I am satisfied in my productivity, and I can enjoy the journey for all it's idealistic and swashbuckling journeyness.
     I was upon one such quest the other day; a quest that, unlike many of my other quests, actually had a destination. Legend had told of a natural spring, hidden within nearly fifty acres of dense forest, from which continuously flowed an abundance of clear, fresh water. Beside this hidden spring, so the legend went, there hung a tin cup with which to drinketh of the waters of the spring. This sounded Holy Grailish enough for me, so donning my winter coat and imaginary chain mail, I set out like Ponce de León in search of the Fountain of Youth. 
     Suffice it to say, I was just as successful as León was. I failed twice to discover this elusive tin cup; a fact that, simply in the failure itself, carried the significance of León's expedition. This was strangely comforting. Despite my disappointing results, however, the means had justified the end. I had tromped through cedar forest and swamp, whipping out the camera like a rapier when interesting compositions doth blocked my way, and I discovered that Stevenson was right. Forests do have a singular captivating power about them that is hard to find anywhere else. God seems to have imbued the trees with that spark of prehistoric nobility that whispers specialness in the wind. No mere quest, regardless of its productivity or significance, can take the place of that.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Glimpse of America

"I took a turn out of Fleet Street and found myself in England." - G.K. Chesterton

     Chesterton has gotten me thinking. I just finished reading his series of short essays that were published in 1909. His reflections on England were remarkably refreshing, and I couldn't help but wonder if we Americans, too, can "miss the forest for the trees" sometimes.
     Many Americans, and, to some degree, myself included, can get so caught up in the failure of those in positions of authority, the failure of their personal efforts to make money, the failure of the economy, and the failure of our country as a whole. We likely get caught up in the menutia of how poorly the republican presidential candidates are dressing for debates, or perhaps we make our doomsday plans to flee to Antarctica when America is inevitably nuked as a result of our (obviously) completely inferior national security. We most likely get upset because it takes forever to get something approved by such-and-such board, and it's a crime punishable by death that the forest down the street was removed to build a subdivision that probably won't be finished for the next two decades.
When one grows complacent with life as it is, I think it will always show in their increased irritation in their country, overall discontent, and annoyance in the little things. It takes fresh eyes to see your nation for what it's worth.
     America still remains the first and only "land of liberty" on the planet, and its citizens are entitled and required to represent that national pride for as long as it lasts. America is still home to 397 national parks and monuments, preserving the most diverse features of our geography and history. Our nation's Capitol, regardless of the corruption it may contain, retains the splendor and legacy of the founders in its white marble monuments. The "American Dream" is still spoken of around the globe, and the great American experiment has been an inspiration and an influence on the world-- the legacy of which will not easily be snuffed out. As Americans, it is our duty, in my opinion, not to represent the United States not as a failing nation, but to stand behind our country and the good things that it still stands for.
     Chesterton argued that one could not truly discover the place in which he lived until he treated it as a destination; literally leaving his hometown on a circuit upon which he would return with the eyes of a foreigner or a tourist. Be a tourist in your own town today. Stop to smell those roses that were always annoying and in the way.

Friday, February 3, 2012

On Apathy

"Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings." - Helen Keller

     Science has its limits. However much we'd like to think that science has the potential to remedy all evils in the world, it can't. Unfortunately, our current science is limited to the the mind. I'm sure most people wouldn't see the mind as any sort of limitation, but we truly don't know what we don't know. In our fallen world, our earthly brains are never generating anything truly new. Our brains can merely re-form what already exists. To use a metaphor, we can create "new" colors by combining different colors from the spectrum, but it is impossible for us to imagine an entirely new color; one that doesn't appear anywhere in the color spectrum--a color that we cannot describe, picture, or create in our minds because it simply doesn't exist. I personally believe that such colors exist (perhaps in heaven or another dimension), but our current science cannot find them because science can only mix the colors from our existing spectrum. Granted, there are an infinity of possible combinations of color in our spectrum, but even that infinity may exclude an entirely unknown spectrum of new color.
    For example, if you could only see in grayscale, and all your computers and scientific instruments could only measure grayscale, there would still be an infinity of grays. But what about red? You or your instruments could never know or comprehend the color red.
     In the same way, Hellen Keller did not, and could not ever comprehend the color red, even though she knew it existed. Science could not cure her.
     (At this point, Paul reads what he just wrote and feels very Aristotelian.) 
     Science has the potential to only explain or remedy things within human comprehension, and, according to Helen Keller, the cure of apathy is out of the reach of scientific explanation. 

     I currently attend an online high school for two of my home schooled classes. A classmate asked me several months ago how I thought apathy could be combated in the school setting. Being the wonderfully punctual person I am, I promptly procrastinated in answering the question until now. If we can learn one thing from Helen Keller on the subject of apathy, it's that it cannot be solved with any scientific study, school-wide program, government strategy, or calculated change in class content. Why? Because apathy doesn't originate in the mind. It cannot be remedied in the mind. It originates in the heart, and it must be changed in the heart. Apathy in a school setting has to be routed out on an individual basis. You can't force someone to care, or even give them a scientifically proven pill to make them care. They have to care on their own accord. 
    Moral of the story: the mind might not be able to remedy some of the deeper problems in life, but a change of heart always can.