Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Find your Caterpillar

When did technology take over for life?

I was waiting for the Brown Line after work today, like I usually do. My stop (the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for those who care) allows me a view of other trains on their circuit around--or away from--the Loop. While watching one such I enjoyed the simile of El train to caterpillar... The one truly does evoke the image of the other, albeit metal and with wheels instead of little buggy legs. But today my mind wandered a little farther, back to the last time I held a caterpillar on my hand, pet it, let it rove around my fingers, and even eat a small piece of a leaf I held for it. I had to go back a long, long time for that memory.

Do you remember the last time you willingly touched a bug without the intent purpose of killing it? Do you remember the days when all you wanted to do was flop on your belly in the yard or on the sidewalk, and dig up earthworms to see which end was the head (and wasn't it both gross and cool when you pulled one apart and each end moved independently)? When did we lose our connection with alive things? Was it when we went to school and spent our days with math and science and language skills and all other human creations? Or was it when something started to whirr and flash? Cell phones, VCRs, cable TV, Nintendo, Atari, ball-in-a-cup, Lincoln Logs, tiddly-winks, paper dolls, rag dolls, hoops... Even the simplest toys were New and Shiny at one time... and clearly more exciting than building with sticks and blowing on those thick pieces of grass until they whistled. How long has it been since you've done that? Has it been too long?

Do you agree that it has been too long, but are you sitting there saying that you'll recapture it with your children? I admit a grown man or woman lying flopped on their belly staring at bugs would look less odd if they were doing it with a small child at their side--but don't wait until you "look less odd." Do it, do it now, whether or not you are in the presence of a child. It is essential to reconnect to earth, nature, Creation. But if you absolutely can't bear the thought of caressing nature by yourself, and you have no children of your own at the moment, then beg your neighbors or friends for theirs (I'm sure they'll be ok with an afternoon to themselves).

Now, what of those of you who have children? Are you doing this? Are you taking them to the zoo, the beach, the park, and then instead of over-scheduling the day are you taking a half hour to watch the ants eat the ice cream that they dropped? Or are you giving your kids the New and Shiny, the Blu-Ray, iPhone, Nintendo DS, Mac book, Kindle? I'm not saying these are BAD, but when's the last time they were just "outside?"

I want to be clear: I'm not saying that electronics are from the devil and I understand that your neighborhood may not be safe enough for your children to play unattended. But I can't help but look on at the group of kids outside the school on my street--yes I drafted this on my BlackBerry on the way home and I do understand the irony--all gathered around one boy playing on his DS. Where is the interaction with the world, with each other? Even if two or more kids linked up, they'd be playing as characters in a world that was made up by some random adult. But give them two sticks and a modicum of imagination and they can have their own adventures!

One year in grade school my friends and I made a snow fort with an elevator, and every time we took it to a new "floor" we'd walk out of the fort into a whole new world--or maybe even to the moon! And this was all without the aid of a human-created construct--not even a shovel. And I still remember that day, almost 20 years later. Do I remember playing Nintendo or watching The Little Mermaid twice a day for a week with my little sister for whom once was never enough? Of course I do. But those were worlds of another man's construct that I merely experienced by proxy, they were not lasting.

I don't think I've ever felt so alive as when I was out there, touching the earth, pulling the stem of a dandelion, spinning in circles on the lawn, or running down a sand dune--in short: I've never felt so alive as when I was out there, living.

It's been a while since I've just sat in the grass or squished sand between my toes, but you know what? It's not too late. It's not too late to get out there on my lunch break and sit on the river walk, watching the Chicago River and waving at the children on the architectural tours. It's not too late for me to walk down North Avenue Beach and kick up the sand just to see it fall. It's not too late to put my camp chair on the sidewalk in front of the building and just sit in the sun.

It's not too late for me, and it's definitely not too late for you. So put down the magazine, stop the DVD player, scoop up your kids if you have them, and go outside, go find your caterpillar. Go forth, and live.

And sure, take your video camera. At least this way the movie you'll be watching is one you created yourself.

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