Dylan and I both grew up reading a lot. I remember having multiple Guinness Books of World Records books I was fascinated with (do they even make those anymore?). I remember this heavy bright silver, almost blindingly shiny large print hardcover that was so difficult for me to carry around. I'd spread it out on the dining table and read it for hours on end. I remember looking through encyclopedias even before I knew how to find things from them. I'd look up words in dictionaries to try to make sense of the encyclopedia entries.
Dylan tells me he had a whole collection of Britannica encyclopedias that he'd proudly display in his living room. I remember getting an oxford atlas with maps from all over the place and finding it difficult to make sense of the world. It was fascinating to read about the African safaris, and the strange wildlife in Australia, and comprehending the massivity of Niagara Falls through photos. Once, I remember clipping out a full spread photo of a pack of wolves from National Geographic magazine. Through all that time, it never occurred to us that those places were real. I mean, we knew they were real but they were not real to us. They just existed in books and encyclopedias. Stuff you learned to answer trivia questions. We both came from modest backgrounds and parents were busy making sure we had a good education and we were good disciplined kids. Family vacations were not a thing in our households. So growing up, it didn't really occur to either of us that perhaps we could experience ourselves the places and people we were reading about. So they existed only in books. Even though we read so fondly, it surprises me now that it never occurred to us that we could actually witness these beyond the books. We didn't think so big. It wasn't a part of our reality.
As we grew older, the National Geographic magazines were replaced with Hemingway and Emerson. The Atlas was safely tucked away in the basement closet and the encyclopedias remained as decoration pieces in the study. The sense of wander and fascination was lost. We had ends to meet and careers to build. Travel plans included wherever jobs took us, or wherever our other, more privileged friends invited us. These were trips to NYC and Hollywood hills and sometimes beach parties where we never really took the time to feel the sand under our feet. It still didn't occur to us that even though we could cross off many cities and states on our lists, we were seeing so little, spending so much and experiencing so less.
I am glad that it has finally occurred to us these things are real - the natural wonders, the massive waterfalls, the grizzly bears and their cubs in tow, the pack of wolves, the moon rises, and the sunsets. That the world is much more than boardwalks, and Times Square.
I was talking to a friend the other day that once I was taking a walk at the beach we found off the Pacific Coast and the sand was the softest I had experienced. There was not a soul in sight except the seals at a small island by the shore that I could see from where I was, and seagulls making a ruckus over a small crab they had found by a rock. She got so excited and said she loves the beach. Which beaches have you been to, I asked. After a pause, she said, "I have actually never been to the beach." It broke my heart for a second. I know she doesn't have access to a beach where she lives. But her fascination lives. That childlike scream of "I love the beach!" melted and broke my heart all at the same time.
I am so grateful that not only did it (finally!) occur to me to experience the world (because it doesn't happen to a lot people), but I also have the means to experience it.
I hope you do too. I know you read those encyclopedias and watched the wildlife documentaries, and fondly flipped through National Geographic (and perhaps that's why you are on this website today). Go and pick it up again, and let me tell you, it's all real. All the rivers, and oceans, and the hot springs, and mountain tops. They are so real and they are so much more than what you see in photos. If you have the means to go, go. You don't even have to go far. Every country offers a piece of heaven, every city does too. Just go and be. Times Square can wait, but what God created in His image will change you in ways you just can't imagine.