The Importance of Being Present

I have been a devoted Nerdfighter for some years now.

Wait, hold up. Let me explain that.

A Nerdfighter, as defined by the men known as the Vlogbrothers, is “someone who, instead of being made of bones and skin and stuff, is made up of awesome.” These two brothers, acclaimed novelist John Green and his brother, the founder of Ecogeek, Hank, started the YouTube sensation known as the Vlogbrothers in an effort to keep in touch without cell phones. Since then the videos have inspired a huge following of fellow Nerdfighters in the ongoing battle to “decrease world suck” and spread knowledge and thoughtful contemplation about the world in which we live.

There, now that that’s out of the way, onto the main reason for this post.

Today John uploaded a new video entitled “Headless Statues and Elton John’s Piano” (you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KboR0Iw96Hk). In this video based in London, John poses the question of whether or not actually “seeing things” is necessary anymore now that virtual seeing has become so lifelike. He asks this once after observing a photograph of a piece at the museum, a picture so much like the actual tablet that it takes him some time to reconcile this optical illusion with what he is seeing, and again at the end of the video where he stares out at the London bridge under the night sky.

I would like to answer John’s question here and leave further discussion up to my readers. There is something vital to really appreciating a sight in actually being there to see it. The physical act of standing or sitting there and being in the presence of whatever has captured your attention is incomparable to anything else. There are certain things you can only begin to appreciate about a sight when you are actively there, in the moment and mindful of that moment. Without the privilege of studying a masterpiece in person or climbing the steps of the Arc de Triomphe (and it is a privilege only some have, I don’t deny it.) a great portion of the experience is passed over.

For example, when I went to the United Kingdom with my father to visit some of our family, I brought away a certain calmness of spirit such as I had never really known before. The physical act of walking among the hills and slopes of England and Scotland, the feel of rain-slick cobblestones under my feet (and the subsequent feeling of my forehead smacking into said cobblestones), and the weight of the chilly air on my neck and shoulders all filled and buoyed me throughout the trip. Those sensations leant a certain realness and layer to the sights I saw such as the castles and historical paths. Without having walked those hills and felt my feet sink into the dew-bedecked grass I would have missed a big part of the experience of seeing the landscape.

Unfortunately, I was not yet thirteen and painfully detached from the whole thing, not as mature as I am now at eighteen, and still missed out on much of the philosophical nature of the English countryside. Were I to return now, being firmly present in each moment would be foremost in my mind.

It is that presence, both physically and mentally, that ensures the greatest understanding of what you are seeing, what gives you the ability to not only see this thing but to absorb and embody it, to become this painting, this building, this landscape, and bring it back home with you.

Snow in the South

There’s something strangely wonderful when weather contradicts setting. It only snows once every few years in the south, and when I rolled over in bed last night to the sound of my fellow students laughing and shouting in the parking lot, I wondered if the weather report had come true.

All day people had been murmuring over the possibility of snow flurries in the middle of the night. And, with the rain and the frigid temperatures, it actually seemed possible. In states like Mississippi and Alabama, snow is cause for celebration and panic.

As the clock flicked closer to midnight, I pried open the blinds and peered out at the parking lot connected to my dorm. Snow capped the cars and blanketed patches of grass. College students skipped and ran through the lot, scooping up meager handfuls of snow to make icy ammunition in a coming war.

My best friend and roommate joined me on my bed so we could marvel over the unfamiliar sight of snow on southern ground. There wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep people out in the chilly air for a couple of hours.

Morning came and, with it, an email stating that certain morning classes were cancelled because of the snow.

I, having already showered and dressed, jumped back onto my bed and opened the blinds. Heaps and quilts of brilliant snow-covered the cars and grass. Lines of the frozen stuff topped tree branches. Everything was light and clean and shiny.

While I grumbled over getting up at seven in the morning for nothing, I settled down with my iPad and the giddy thought that it had actually snowed in Mississippi. How wonderfully strange.

Rain Storms and Finding Comfort

In case you didn’t know, the weather in the south is fickle and temperamental, prone to sudden tantrums and bouts of rage. Yesterday and today have seen the strength of those episodes.

As I made my way through Alabama and Mississippi to my private college located just ten minutes outside of Jackson, I found my hands gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter. Rain lashed and pounded the windshield, and I nearly hydroplaned three times. Swaths of rain and gray obscured taillights and turn signals, and I started praying that God would just get me safely to campus.

My hands ached hours after releasing the wheel, and I discovered an irritating crick in my neck from hunching over so much. But I made it in one piece, only to discover that the closest parking spot to my dorm was across the street in a huge lot.

Have you ever tried carrying in a heap of clothes and other essentials all by yourself? I don’t recommend it. My shoulders are still speckled with burst blood vessels from where my backpack straps dug into them.

Today saw a massive swell of rain and wind, leaving my feet red and icy after walking to and from the college bookstore (also across the street) with my textbooks. The street has morphed into a chilly River Styx, with street signs acting as ferrymen for disheveled students who could not care less about the cars grumbling at their stop signs.

However, despite all of that, I find myself in a fairly good mood. Whether it was the success of my first pair of classes, the happiness I felt at obtaining two Norton Anthologies, or the anticipation of a Chinese buffet waiting for me, I have retained a calmness I did not think would stay with me.

I’m sure I could philosophize and muse on what this all means (the storms of life against my success and attitude), but I really don’t want to. For now, I just want to enjoy the softness of my blanket and the Green Day songs spewing from my laptop speakers.

But who knows? Maybe I’ll have a great epiphany and expound on all of this tomorrow.

Until then.