We are fascinated by light.
Our world is governed by it. Sunrise, sunset. Morning, night. Seeing, not seeing. Awake, asleep. Healthy, poorly. Life and death. Light controls our biological rhythms. As living creatures we are inextricably linked to light.
We are drawn to light, like moths almost. Who hasn’t paused to watch the sun rise or set? Who hasn’t marvelled at the richness of colour in that morning or night sky? Glistening dew and its water droplets reflecting sunlight. Sunlight dancing through a wooded canopy. A flash of lightening startling the dark sky.
We use light in idiom too, reflecting the importance of light to us. Idioms like: Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. A guiding light. In the light of… Out like a light. Shed light on. The light dawned. The glint in your eye. Even enlightenment, or seeing the light, to describe finding a connection to something greater.
And we try to replicate light in our manufactured world. Fluorescent light, incandescent light, light emitting diodes, laser lights etc. We use them to create brightly lit advertising displays, televisions, laptops, mobiles, rooms, houses…
I took this picture of sunrise over Niagara Falls this morning. Somehow, the man-made advertising light on the hotel seemed to destroy the majesty of the sun.
It served as a reminder of our fascination, alongside our abject inability to come close to the wonder of the natural world.
When I join a motorway, board a train, get on a bus, I don’t notice where it ends, where it terminates. I merely check if it’s going to my stop. Perhaps you do the same?
Some days, I get a bus from the train station in London to work. I know which buses go there. I have made this journey for several years. I pay scant attention to where the bus is headed though, beyond my disembarking point. It trundles off, my use of it complete. My journey is bounded by what I know. By start and end. By familiarity.
Earlier this week I was working elsewhere for a few days and discovered the same bus went there; I just needed to stay on it for another twenty minutes.
Now my normal journey has more context I can imagine the onward journey in my mind. I still don’t know where the final destination of my bus is, but more is known to me and so strangely the bus has more life, more character, more relevance. I am somehow more connected.
Life is like that.
We know where our next port of call is. We become familiar with the small repeat journeys we make. But we find it hard to see beyond; to see the context of the whole journey, to see where we are headed. To know a destination.
I am travelling abroad now for seven weeks. I have a planned route and know where I will end up. Yet I don’t know where I’m going still; in that the terrain is all new, the environment totally strange to me, everything is to be discovered on route. Nothing is familiar. Nothing on repeat.
Sometimes life is like that too.
For the last few days I have been working south of the river in London, returning north of the Thames to catch a train home. The journey is typically about 35 minutes on a bus.
On the return journey in the evening, twice I have been inspired to get off the bus and walk, because the bus has been stationary for some time; gridlocked. I have walked the bus route passing buses. Buses going to my destination. Four yesterday. Walking trumps bus.
My train has been delayed travelling home on one day. Over an hour’s delay. So much so, that I possibly could have ridden a bike home faster.
Now I am on a train and, whilst I have a seat, hundreds are standing. Standing still, to travel tens of miles towards their homes. Standing and yet moving at maybe 90mph.
It seems in our ‘modern’, ‘advanced’ world that much is turning upside down. I wonder what else will do so over the next decade? Not just travel… but what we do, who we care for, what we pay attention to, who we communicate with and how, what we appreciate, what society is, what community is, what rewards us, where we find joy, where we find peace…
Maybe a new set of top trump cards is called for?
Looking across valleys. Looking out to sea. Looking at a sunset or a sunrise. Looking at mountain ranges. Looking from on high, across a landscape, we often use the phrase…
“What a beautiful view”.
What is it about large spaces, wide angled perspectives, panoramas that draws us to admire the view?
And why, so often in our lives, do we get close up? Rather than stepping back and seeing the context, the flow, the connections, the breadth, the beauty of the whole. Instead, we focus on a detail. We get transfixed by one aspect. We lose sight of the bigger picture, literally.
We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity; more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.
(speech from the Jewish barber in The Great Dictator)
The bucket list idea has been around for a few years now, popularised by the film of that name from 2007.
Essentially the notion of a list of the life experiences to have, or life achievements to attain, before you die. Before you ‘kick the bucket’. For example, ‘making this trip ticks one thing off my bucket list’.
You can even download suggested bucket lists – with places you should visit and experiences you should have whilst you still can. Someone else’s idea of what you should do, to live a rich and fulfilled life. Interesting concept.
Often these lists contain far flung places to visit or high octane adrenaline fueled experiences. Many cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. Visit Machu Pichu. Skydive. Swim with dolphins. Run a marathon.
What if we lived for the moment instead? What if we identified the day to day things that bring pleasure, happiness, joy to our lives and just do more of them?
Drink tea with a biscuit to dunk. Sit in the garden. Have a bath. Walk in the woods. Bake brownies. Buy those orange shoes we covet. Listen to a thunderstorm. Hold hands. Laugh.
Too few people notice the little things they enjoy and then set out to do more of them.
It strikes me the bucket list idea has a hole in it. If we’re focused on our death and on large scale, time costly, expensive big events, then life is leaking out of the hole every day.
When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate.
And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.
Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.
When we find a contribution, a toil, a role that aligns with why we were born into this world, then life becomes living.