Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Going there to see here

There is a sidewalk on my campus that I only use about twice a month. Over the course of almost 10 years, I've observed the changing seasons, the changing students, and the ubiquitous construction.  I've pretty well seen what there is to see on that stretch of sidewalk. Or so I thought.

Last week, I saw the light.  Literally.  In fact, I saw two of them, flanking the entrance to a building.  And I realized that I had seen that light two months and 300 miles away, walking the streets of Memphis and capturing architectural details through the lens of my camera.  Why had I never seen that light in my own backyard?

As I pondered that question, I searched through 200 or so photos of architectural details (light fixtures, molding, brick patterns, ironwork, bridges and more, in true geek fashion) to find the one I remembered.  Memory being what it is, the lights are similar in design and material, though not identical. But had I not taken the photo there, I doubt that I would ever have noticed the light here.

Sometimes we can only see some parts of where we are by returning there from somewhere else. T.S. Eliot captures it best, perhaps, in "Little Gidding" from Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Minds traveling

Last week, we visited the clock tower on campus. A group of 19 freshmen and I walked through the corridors of a historic classroom and office building to see the original bell (from the bell tower located at the other end of the building), the history of the clock tower that had no clock for most of its life, and the mechanism that currently produces the Westminster Chimes heard each day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The clock tower is both a working tower and a museum (albeit on a small scale) to honor history and tradition.  For me, it is a reminder of childhood days spent in Germany, where church bells and manicured cemeteries are ubiquitous. In fact, I found myself explaining to the students the unique sound of Westminster Chimes (yes, I was singing; there's really no other way) and searching for a connection that would resonate for most of them.  The one that worked? Mary Poppins.  The movie.  With The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben in the opening scenes.

When we returned to class, I offered a brief explanation of my fascination with pendulum clocks and the various chimes associated with Bavaria.  And I've been thinking for several days now about how each place I've traveled (Panama, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, France, Belgium, Holland, and the majority of the 50 U.S. States) has influenced my thinking, my preferences, my attitudes, my impact that reaches far beyond the actual time spent in traveling:

  • Cemeteries I visit and photograph: Germany.  
  • Tulip bulbs in my garden that herald Spring: Holland. 
  • The locks of the Panama Canal that fascinate me: Panama.
  • Quality chocolate : Switzerland, Belgium, France.
  • Classic movies I enjoy watching: Germany, Switzerland, France (Paris), the United Kingdom (London)
  • Trains I ride as often as I can: Europe

The list goes on, as I age, travel with my daughter (most recently London; next up New York City), and encourage students to look beyond the immediate to see the past as something other than a history text to endure, to experience the present unfolding both in their own community and in the communities of others, and to image the future differently because of those experiences.  Whether we travel by way of reading, by way of theory (Stephen Hawking is one of my favorite role models for mind travel), or by way of imagination, it's important that our minds travel.  

As a case in point, after class I did a bit of reading about Westminster Chimes and learned that they are also called Cambridge Chimes.  St. Mary the Great, located in central Cambridge, is the home of the chimes which have always been Westminster Chimes to me.  

Minds traveling are minds learning.