Friday, December 02, 2005

matters of size

just a place to run and hide, just a place to free your mind,
just a place to break the chains and find whatever matters

Have you ever taken the opportunity to return to a location, or space from your early childhood that holds deep, beautiful, and numerous warm memories? When I get this chance, I’m always taken aback at how small things are. Rooms are tiny, ceilings are low, even streets more narrow and distances are shorter. No matter how many times this happens, it always comes as a surprise. We remember places, spaces and even people, with a physical proportion relative to our own size when we were there. We don’t remember things from our childhood with our grown-up memories. We remember them with our childhood memories, with our childhood understandings and perceptions.
Whenever I hear someone say, “it’s just as I remember it,” I am skeptical. Are you the same person as you were at 7 years old?
As a young parent, I remember being advised to remember how huge everything looks to an infant. Careful about hovering over him, find ways for her to sit at your level when you’re tooling around. Provide interactive space that is not overwhelming.

Yesterday, in a class geared for random and sundry things, I played for the students a few songs that mean a lot to me and just said a few words about them. This seemed the thing to do, because we’ve used the class to unpack some heavy stuff lately, and this week has been an especially heavy week. I guested in Principles of Teaching and Learning class on Tuesday and Wednesday, and one of my students came into my class immediately after and said, “Gosh, Dr. Rod, you really laid on the heavy in that class.”
So few songs seemed appropriate.
After class, a student came up and said, I’d like to talk to you some time about different approaches to music, for example, the music you played today is so far from my style that I can’t get my head around what it is you find in it.
I remember when music was like that for me. Just couldn’t get my head around music that was outside of my preferential frame of reference. Now when I look back on that music, it seems like the living room at my grandmother’s house – tiny with a low ceiling.
I couldn’t help asking myself, why, when we are so young and everything is so large, do we end up living in such a tiny world.
It seems as if, to make sense of a something beyond our comprehension, we have to shrink it, to carve off our little niche and ignore the rest. We codify, categorize, partition. We draw boundaries and man, are the boundaries defined, precise and narrow. We have a reason for everything, even for our likes, and if someone else likes the same thing as us, but for a different reason, it is just as if they were from Mars.
Borders, boundaries, maps and methods of maneuvering. We fear what we do not know and express that fear as distaste, disgust, undesirable or wrong.

Our world grows so much larger as we grow up and grow older. Or the world grows smaller because we enter it by getting out of our own. Our boundaries and maps are no longer sufficient to move us around, but we are able so much more easily to navigate it, ironically, precisely because it is so large, or rather broad. My experience is bigger than the living room, nature is bigger than my backyard, music is bigger than a style. God is bigger than the hand that feeds me. As a grown up, I interact with a much broader experience than my childhood, bounded, delineated, explained, safe environment would allow. I no longer have to define myself by my definitions of the things with which I’ve surrounded myself, or by the box I’ve created for myself. When I go back and look at that world, it seems so much smaller than I remember it. It no longer seems safe, but rather suffocating.

But of course, not everyone grows. There are many of us for whom the world always looms so large as to dwarf us physically, mentally, intellectually, socially, geographically, artistically, theologically. We define what we believe to be on the other side of our boundaries by what we’ve created on the inside of our boundaries. Out there, the way seems unclear, unknown, and if a map gets revised or edited, we risk losing our way for the rest of our lives.