…and away we go!
March 29, 2011 § 25 Comments
Me, I see Jackie Gleason in his famous, “…and away we go!” pose—or rather, my dad doing Gleason.
Having made the leap from carrot, to Gleason, to my Dad, I am back in my family’s living room in Princeton Junction, New Jersey. My dad, who is about to leave the room, is standing on one foot, the other leg crossed over, as he delivers Gleason’s famous exit line.
Okay, chances are your dad never did Gleason, but I bet you saw something more than a carrot in this image.
Something human with legs.
A fat man doing an exuberant dance perhaps.
How about this one?
Driving past it every day, for me they have become an old married couple. The ungainly pair is walking slowly along together.
The one on the left is more bent, her head down as she walks. Her jaunty companion has his arm around her. They are growing comfortably old together. Life is good.
Perhaps my story is more elaborate than is justified—or perhaps you are thinking, you are nuts, Adrian (If that is the case, feel free to say so in the comments).
But if you recognize this : ) as a human face, you do it too.
Because we are human we see ourselves—and those we long to see—all around us. It is not surprising that Jesus appears frequently, and in such unlikely places as on some guy’s breakfast plate, the portrait amazingly lifelike on a pancake. People flock to see such an incredible manifestation of divinity and wonder at the mysterious ways God chooses to communicate with us.
Why at breakfast, God? Why? At least let me drink my first cup of coffee before you show up!
The ancients found their gods and heroes writ large in the night sky, in collections of stars that had surely been deliberately arranged. Seen from anywhere but earth, or by anyone not human, those constellations would be nothing but scattered points of light. It is our human need for meaning that compels us to connect the dots.
Four leaf clovers, black cats that cross our paths, horse shoes. Whether smiling on us or dooming us, we look for signs that the universe is aware of us and that it cares enough to reward or punish us.
The chaos of an infinite in which we are no more than an ephemeral flicker terrifies us, so we come up with more bearable explanations. We have not changed that much since the ancient days when the model of the heavens had earth at its center. Belief in our own significance comforts us, but it also robs us.
Preoccupation with the importance of our human selves blinds us to so much of what goes on around us.
I would love, for just a minute, to see the world as they do. Not only to experience the difference between my vision and theirs, but to hone in on those things that would matter to me if I were a carpenter bee. What patterns do a carpenter bee draw comfort from?
What do the constellations that rule the lives of the other occupants of this planet look like?
I will never know, but if I can quiet my insistent human self and observe, I may begin to understand–and so I try. But the moments when my human self is unobtrusive enough for me to do so are fleeting and brief.
I will always see Jackie Gleason in the carrot, the old couple in the collection of tanks and pipes. I will see the humor and the compassion, the sadness and joy that make me a member of the human tribe.
And I will remain a perpetual outsider, respectfully observing the other lives that teem all around me.
“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
Henry Beston, American Poet and Naturalist