The helpful lady handed me the headphones, along with the MP3 player. She assumed that I, like the other silver-haired folks in line, would need help with how to use it. She may have been right…but that didn’t stop me from waving her on to the next person. I don’t read instructions, nor do I need road maps. Hmmm…for some strange reason, we do always seem to be exploring odd places in big cities. Well, be that as it may, I had time while waiting in line to figure out how the device worked and listened to the introduction. “One of the most popular American artists of the last century, Norman Rockwell…” No, I won’t bore you with the details. You know who Norman Rockwell was. We were at the local art museum to see an exhibition of his spectacular original works. After a ten minute wait in line, the doors to the gallery were opened and we filed in expectantly.
The place was packed. And amazingly quiet. I was surprised at the silence in the room. I started to remark on it, but the Lovely Lady at my side had already put on her headphones and pointed to the indicator on the wall next to the closest piece of art. I clicked in the appropriate number and a voice began. The description was pleasant and almost friendly, as the narrator, Mr Rockwell’s son himself, began to tell us about the work we were viewing. Still, something was missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
We wandered along, surprised that so many people were grouped around the works with narration indicators, but avoided the other paintings altogether. They would walk, almost rudely, in front of patrons viewing a piece, simply to see the indicator number on the next one down and then would punch the number into their own device and stand, annoyed at the others who walked, almost rudely, in front of them to do the same. We all wandered along, stopping for the same length of time before each piece, and then, tapping the screen that activated our electronic guide, moved on to the next framed work with an audio indicator, to repeat the process. I saw heads nodding and smiles forming, but there was almost no talking; virtually no pointing.
The battery indicator on my device showed that the power was low. I ignored it, moving along and listening. Soon however, the voice gave out altogether and the screen went blank. Dead battery! I considered turning it in for a newly charged one, but, thinking better of it, simply put the headphones down around my neck and moved to the next piece. Suddenly, I knew what was missing!
When we go to art galleries and antique shops, the Lovely Lady and I talk constantly. “I like that…” “Did you see what he did with this?” We speculate about details and origins. We prod each other with ideals and cautionary points. On this day, I was on my own. She listened to her canned guide, taking in the details as he spoke, but I was alone with my thoughts. Alone in an art gallery packed with people. No one at all to talk with about the artist’s ideas or techniques. No one to laugh with, as his sense of humor demonstrated itself. I soaked in what little my feeble mind could comprehend, but I know that I missed so much, simply because I had no one with whom to discuss the works. What was missing was the interaction of another human being. That MP3 wasn’t interaction. It was information, but not application. It gave facts, but not ideas; not conclusions.
I left a little disappointed and slightly resentful. Oh, the art was magnificent. I love Norman Rockwell’s perception of the American spirit, the families, even the faith of his subjects. That said, I wanted to share that with someone on this day and had been kept from fulfilling my intent. I wonder, can I have a do-over? I’d like another shot at it. Perhaps, I’ll get the chance yet.
Say, do you like road trips? I do too. With other people. I know that some folks love solitude, love to travel alone, taking in the sights and storing them up in their memory, to be divulged, bit by bit, at some later time. Not me, buddy. I want to say, “Hey! Would you look at that?” “Man, what a beautiful sunset.” “Wow! Look at the snow-covered mountains!” Beauty shared is twice as beautiful. The other person in the car may notice a rainbow across the valley, may see an eagle soaring high above that I didn’t observe. Even if I see it, if I have no one to share it with, I feel robbed. A secret one is forced to keep is not nearly as satisfying as a discovery made together.
We weren’t meant to keep good things to ourselves. I don’t even think that we were made to learn on our own. Perhaps, it’s just the way I process things, but when I’m in a group discussing a concept, the ideas just seem to flow from the interplay between minds that work differently and people who come from varied environments. On my own, ideas become stagnant and repetitive.
We need each other. Iron sharpens iron. In the presence of many counselors, there is wisdom.
Perhaps it is time to put away the headphones. Time to point, and share, and learn. You know how to do that.
Talk amongst yourselves.
“Our best thoughts come from others.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American essayist/poet~1803-1882)
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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