Civilization

Last Friday was spent with the family in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. More specifically, the West Gallery of the art museum, where are mostly traditional paintings with some Renaissance sculpture in between. The East Gallery houses abstract and contemporary art, but we didn’t have time to explore that part. It’s fascinating to walk through time, as it seems, beginning with paintings done in the 12th century up to the early 1900’s. I do miss the Greek architecture found in eastern US cities; impressive granite constructed buildings with cool white marble grand staircases, huge yawning rotundas, chandeliers weighing hundreds of pounds; Arizona’s Rt. 66 and Anasazi history looks pale in comparison. The design of the town and its buildings speak loudly of the founding fathers’ bent for Greek philosophy and lifestyle. The West Gallery is just another way cool building—top-lit stacked granite construction means there are no windows, everything is naturally lit through the filtered glass ceiling. I’ve peeked into the art gallery several times during escapes from tour groups but this was my first time I had a whole day to spend in one gallery. The downside was that it took over 2 hours to drive back because the traffic was piled up most of the way home.

People often ask me, “Why did you leave all that to go to school at a little obscure college in the middle of nowhere Arizona?” The easy answer is, “I don’t know.” Or, “I wanted to be close to the Grand Canyon.” There are good things about Arizona but they all concern the lack of human intervention with nature. I wasn’t even able to escape traffic jams in Flagstaff because of its poor street layout—not because of abundance of people. I’ve had a lot of quality reflection time this week, sitting on a bright red Adirondack chair in the shade of 200 year old oaks in my parents’ lawn. So how is this little venture really working out?

I went to college to learn, and learn I did. Learning was enjoyable and I learned much about a lot of things. I studied whatever I had an interest in: English, Chinese, math, writing, communication, art, psychology, economics, philosophy, geography, graphic design, etc, etc. Perhaps, though, more than anything, I learned how little I knew, and learned that the more I learned the less I would know, for the nature of learning is such that more only widens the Field Of Unlearned exponentially.

I went to college far from home to learn about humans. What were they really like, and how was one to live among them? How did they make friends? Was it possible to live in a world of strangers? The only way to find out was to replace ‘they’ with ‘me.’ To eliminate confounding variables in my experiment, I needed to leave the proximity of family, friends, and church. I felt like I knew nothing about my race, sheltered as I was in my church/community. Were humans outside of my contact community hostile and friendless? Were they dogged with feelings of guilt because they weren’t part of Jeremy’s community? These may be silly questions, yet affirmative answers were assumed by all in my community. I was taught that people around me could not truly be happy unless they lived like I did, and I believed it with all my heart. I never had a chance to question it; as children we were only allowed limited contact with the neighbor kids, we didn’t go to movies or watch television, our reading material was heavily censored, and we attended an exclusive school only for kids who believed exactly as we did. I felt like I had grown up outside of society, incapable of interacting with anyone who didn’t have the same background and religion as I had.

Arriving in Arizona, I was surprised when people talked to me, invited me to parties, and wanted my opinions about life. In my home community I was respected because of my stability; I attended the youth activities singing at nursing homes and such, I owned a house and car and pickup and had a good job. None of my Arizona friends knew anything about that—to them I was nobody, but they took me in like they had known me all their life. I must have seemed a little weird because I wasn’t motivated by drugs or alcohol and didn’t know anything about movies or television, but that didn’t seem to matter. I was invited to their homes for meals and nights, I went camping with them, they completely trusted me and I eventually them. What surprised me was that ‘they’ were human, I mean, they had houses that were sometimes clean—sometimes messy, they had moral scruples, and they had the capacity to be happy and sad. I discovered that these friends also struggled mightily with being accepted, but didn’t let it rule their lives like I had done too many times when buying cars and pickups and houses. I was taught that clean and classy homes and cars would somehow draw people from the ‘world’ who were fed up enough with their dirty homes and guilt-ridden existence to want to become members of our community. Looking ‘back’ on the spotless homes and immaculate acres owned by my community causes my heart to sink a little because I know I will never be able to accumulate as much with my student loan debt load. My Arizona friends were invaluable in helping me adjust to this new life. They taught me that I really need others to help me, and showed me how to be a friend to others.

I had few expectations when coming to college since I knew so little about it. The ones I had were set so low there was little chance of failing them. I was pleasantly surprised when I found there were other Christians attending college. Although I didn’t attend their churches I could sense they truly were trying to live by the Bible. I faltered in the creativity department; when it was necessary for me to give an impromptu presentation or draw a poster by hand I struggled with expressing myself and had to squelch feelings of inferiority. Feedback I received from presentations was to use better voice projection, display personality, and engage the audience. This went directly against my domestic teachings to constrain my feelings and act humble at all times. Though it is still uncomfortable for me to give a speech about myself, I am honored when others ask, and consider it one of the best conversation starters there is. I was encouraged when I found that the course content was not difficult to grasp, professors were approachable and kind, and I didn’t have trouble making A’s as long as I followed the work ethic implanted in me by parents and former employers. When beginning, I didn’t know whether the content would be silly and insignificant, or profound and intellectual; what I found was an inspiring and fascinating mix that stimulated me to learn above and beyond what was required to get a passing grade.

It’s been a great year. I cringe when I think of my actions in a few situations at the beginning of the year, but even this is good because it gives me hope—since I see my past in this way, I must surely have learned something from it. One objective I had was to be able to express myself more freely through words, body language, and art. Perhaps the best advice I’ve received was to show personality in all I do.

The future is largely unknown. The companies I wanted to work for when deciding on a major are the same ones I am looking at today. If I get to work there, I could be placed in any one of several major cities in the US and Eurasia. Some of these are close to my hometown, some are far away. There are hundreds of employers with similar situations if I don’t get placed in my first choice. Employment is viewed by yours truly on a tangent from what I grew up with. In a small community like mine, employment was guaranteed as long as I was in ‘good standing’ with my church. This often resulted in a person working a job for which he was not really suited, but as long as he was honest and sincere it was viewed as better than working in the ‘world.’ Apart from such a community there is a definite pressure to perfect a set of skills closely aligned with the desired position. Because skill sets and capabilities are now important to a prospective employer, résumé skills and interview prowess are important tools for a job hunter. I am pursuing internships now for next summer in hopes of finding an opening where I can gain practical experience and secure a future career. My estimation of future employment is that the economy will open up a bit by the time I finish college, enabling me to get some type of clerical or finance-related job upon graduation.

It’s time to wrap this up and post it. Next Friday is almost here, which means that I’ve been fiddling with this little article for almost a week. Life moves on and so do I. Now I’m sitting in Harrisburg Airport waiting for my flight to leave for Atlanta and then Phoenix. Tomorrow I go to work bright and early, my roommates move in, and classes begin again Monday. I still need to buy textbooks and a hundred other 5-minute tasks before I’m ready to begin a new semester. I hesitate before posting such a sentimental article as the one that happened this time, but console myself that reflection is an important part of life. I’m leaving the humid rainforest green of PA and heading back to dry, brown, and sunny AZ…

*The long and winding road, that leads to your door,
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*Will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before.
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*It always leads me here, leads me to your door.
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*The wild and windy night, that the rain washed away,
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*Has left her full of tears, crying for the day.
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*Why leave me standing here? Let me know the way.
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*Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried,
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*Anyway, you’ve never known, the many ways I’ve tried,
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*And still lately been back to the long, winding road.
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*You left me standing here, a long, long time ago.
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*Don’t leave me waiting here, lead me to your door.
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*But still lately been back to the long, winding road,
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*You left me standing here, a long, long time ago,
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Don’t keep me waiting here, lead me to your door.

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