Tuesday, June 14, 2022

"What A Savage And Beautiful Country Lies In Between"


It was 1981 when I encountered my first bank machine. I experienced it as a small miracle. It did away with bankers hours and standing in lines with all those old people who apparently had nothing better to do with their time. And then one day there I was, queued up behind an elderly woman (who was, I realize, probably younger than I am today). She stabbed at buttons and squinted at the screen and resorted to the "Cancel" button several times before throwing up her hands, embarrassed at her own ineptitude.

I offered to help. As we parted ways she joked, "I think I'll just let a teller help me next time."

As I withdrew my own cash, it occurred to me that there would come a day, if I was to live long enough, when I'd run into my own ATM. 


That moment has become a kind of touchstone for me, a memory I rely upon when I find myself befuddled by the modern world. Back then, it was the befuddlement that I feared. I imagined that it was a sure sign that the end was near, but now I know that it's not the befuddlement, but the throwing up of hands that is the real danger sign.

The hardest thing to do is to retain our curiosity as we age. There is a tendency to calcify, to increasingly view life through the lens of answers rather than questions. However, to become less curious, I think, I hope, is not an inevitable thing, like wrinkles or graying hair, but rather a habit of mind. It requires us to regularly set aside what we think we know, which is to say our assumptions, and that can be a hard thing to do, both intellectually and emotionally.


As the poet and author Diane Ackerman writes, "The great affair is to move. The great affair, the love affair in life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and despite all its dimension, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between."

There is no better way to stay in relationship with the mystery than to spend time in the company of children. They are, in a way, the indigenous people of this life of mystery, the ones who never throw up their hands, who are unashamed of their befuddlement, who know that whatever they know must regularly be set aside, whatever the risk, in order to give curiosity its day. The challenge as adults is to avoid the hubris of colonizing this world with our certainties and assumptions, but rather to gallup along with them, side-by-side, through this magnificent land of perpetual befuddlement and mystery.


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"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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