September 23, 2009

The Planet Of Inexperience

In The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera writes:
We are born one time only, we can never start a new life equipped with the experience we've gained from a previous one. We leave childhood without knowing what youth is, we marry without knowing what it is to be married, and even when we enter old age, we don't know what it is we're heading for: the old are innocent children of their old age. In that sense, man's world is the planet of inexperience.
What a beautiful encapsulation of the human experience.

Like many I suspect, I sometimes dream of having the opportunity to live life over again, to revisit poorly thought out decisions, or adjust for factors unknown at the time. Alas, we are given no such second chances. Our only alternative is to make the best choices we can based on the information available to us. We can content ourselves that every other hapless soul finds itself in the same quandary.

Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), a pioneer botanist in the American Northwest, can literally be said to have been one of those lost souls. Despite taking part in several expeditions on the American frontier, his fellow explorers knew him to be almost permanently astray. They lit watch fires every evening because it was the only way he could make it back to camp.

His woeful itinerancy culminated one evening when, despite the fires, he failed to return, and his companions were forced to go look for him. They called out his name, and made enough noise that Nuttall heard them through the trees.

But perhaps they were Indians. They might have heard the others use his name. So he went charging into the brush in the other direction. For three days, he led his party on a winding, meandering chase through the woods. Eventually, and by fortunate accident, he led them right back to the original camp.

History remembers Nuttall as one of history's greatest failures, but he did not allow his deficiencies to prevent him from also being one of America's most important early botanists. Like Nuttall, we all bumble and bluff our way, trying to convince ourselves their is some meaning in all the bluster, and doing our best to make something of the great practical joke of life. As Kundera points out, every one of us, no matter how accomplished, is a miracle of ignorance.

Lyric Of The Day:

Teachers keep on teachin'
Preachers keep on preachin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it won't be too long

Lovers keep on lovin'
Believers keep on believin'
Sleepers just stop sleepin'
Cause it won't be too long

I'm so glad that he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin'
Till I reach my highest ground

"Higher Ground"
-Stevie Wonder

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