If you get the chance to travel and see the American landscape while you’re young, especially in today’s social-media driven, share-everything culture, you’ll have one beautiful difficulty. I can almost guarantee it. And if you’ve aspired to wrap words around ideas, places, or experiences to keep the heat on, this will become especially vexing.
Because for some places… There are not words.
I could rattle off a few just sitting here: The Florida Keys, The Grand Canyon, the Montana landscape, the Maine Coast, the Outer Banks… but there are too many to list in a blog, a Facebook post or any online list that you’ll read, if we’re being honest.
And what happens when you stand before these natural monuments is something that’s hard to describe, but I’ll try. With most every other experience in life, no matter how far-fetched or absurd, we experience it by sharing it. If we are crossing the street and a car runs a red light and nearly hits us… we share this story, others recognize its absurdity and agree. We get it out, we see our estimation of it mirrored in the reaction of others, and we move on.
When we experience love in the way of marriage, there’s a church full of onlookers to share in our excitement and gratitude and congratulate us. When we experience loss, there’s a church full of loved ones to console us.
These experiences are defined by our sharing them, describing them, and having some type of community around us to verify and reflect their worth and value. If a man lived and died alone in a forest, would he have ever “lived,” in any real sense? Would his death be a “loss,” in the way we typically understand a death to be? It’s hard to say.
But when we stand in front of the Pacific crashing on the beaches of Cape Flattery, Wash., or see the ocean lapping on the shores of Islamorada, Florida, or see the sun light up the sky in the Outer Banks in North Carolina a thousand shades of fluorescent orange, that’s not necessarily an experience that’s defined through sharing, but rather internalizing.
Sure, in today’s social-media driven culture we’re bound to photograph, hashtag, and post images of these places and landscapes… but truthfully we could just as easily sit in an apartment, download a .JPG, and upload it to our timeline. Sharing the experience doesn’t define it, but absorbing it does.
When you see these places that defy description, you can’t help but absorb them. Somehow that beauty that could only exist in nature, could only be manifested by some divinely inspired creator, becomes part of us when we witness it. “We are what we eat,” has become a cultural slogan, but a more realistic and accurate one might be: “We are what we’ve witnessed. We are what we’ve seen.”
Because when this life’s done and we ultimately leave this place for another, we’ll take only the things that we can hold onto, and fortunately material things don’t fall into that category. “You can’t take it with you,” is right. Except for the waves crashing on beaches, the sunrises over forests, the last shades of silver on the clouds from a setting moon, or the afternoon shadows playing on a meandering river. Those, when we absorb, we keep. And we carry. For today, tomorrow and forever.