What didn’t survive the cut in the Expectations post was a digression about how my generation has a jaded seen-it-all attitude that is very disturbing. We have largely been driven from the primitive, from the real laws of nature, of the wild, the principles of being human. I felt it working very strongly in me during our recent canoe trip, especially during the first few days.
It is an alarmingly disengaged sensation, a feeling of being distant from where you are, what you are seeing, hearing, feeling. It is frustrating, like a glass wall between yourself and reality.
Last Friday, we were at the bar with some friends. Katie and I were talking with a friend, N. Katie said that one of our other friends had said she was “shocked and awed” by something a few days before. N and I paused for a second. I was thinking that it’s sad that such a descriptive — if hyperbolic — statement has been co-opted by the warmongers. N said that she was never awed by anything anymore, though shocked quite often.
In the discarded section of Expectations, I had considered that not only are we not awed by anything, but we have been taught to admire our jadedness and our cynicism. I don’t know if N was exactly bragging about it, but she was certainly conscious, and accepting, of it.
At a different bar, a few nights ago, I went into the bathroom. This bathroom is memorable for the ironically-worded, penciled graffiti above the urinals. I saw that someone had written, “Brian Shelly is Aweful.” The misspelling of the word awful caught my eye. The true spelling of the word really, something that speaks to its real meaning. Being associated with awe doesn’t always have to be a good thing. Hyperbole might be necessary to describe the awesome and the awful.
There was a story in Sunday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press about the writer John Hildebrand (registration required, you can use email: firstname.lastname@example.org, password: juvie211 to log in). He says he writes about “how people fit into the landscape and their conflicts, which are usually rooted in the land.” He is not a nature writer.
I’m not sure what school of nature writing he is talking about here, but there is much great writing out there about the drama of the wild, connecting with the world on very real bases, being a participant on Earth, not a god. It’s anything but condescending or pious and I’ve never found it the least bit boring. Of course, personal taste must be accounted for. He got me thinking.
Isn’t there awe to be felt and described? Some years ago, Katie and I concluded that God must hand the skies over to the great artists, Monet, Van Gogh. They are art. So is the lake we paddled around Sunday afternoon, a lake with torquoise water carved deep into the hills, a lake I know better than any other. Perhaps the work of Leonardo da Vinci?
I don’t want to write about stumbling around the woods in a starry-eyed daze, staring up at the highest branches or the blue sky beyond. Hildebrand offers a good caution against that. I want to focus on the whole by concentrating on the specific. But, neither do I want to write an academic paper or something so dry and esoteric that some people might not get anything out of it whatsoever. The best way to preach to the choir is to read Scripture.
Awe is still possible, though many people don’t know what it feels like, how to understand it, how to make use of it. So it’s fallen by the wayside.