What happens when we take something exceptional, and insert it into the mundane realities of day to day life? Does it loses its ability to inspire us as human beings, or does it raise our day to day appreciation of the world around us?
Let’s start off by looking at the natural world, the landscapes that surround us. A few weeks ago I went on holiday to the Isle of Mull, an exceptional island where the natural beauty was so overwhelming that you could almost feel your soul being re-invigorated. I tried to find a photo to illustrate this, but got caught up in a whirlwind of emotions that led me to fall in love all over again. The image I’ve chosen to illustrate this is of the Carsaig arches. Once a sea cave, eroded over the centuries by the raw power of nature, these are accessible only via a 6 hour round walk. We met two people whilst walking there, and two people walking back. On the day we visited only six people – less than a billionth of the worlds population – saw what we saw. Only six people saw the same waterfalls tumbling to the sea. Only six people watched the tide turning over unspoilt beaches. If we’re going to talk abut exceptional beauty, that’s about as good as it gets.
Sometimes, I wonder what life would be like living on the edge, surrounded by this beauty – and then I realise that I do. North Wales could not be more geographically picturesque if it tried. The majestic heights of Snowdonia, the proudly bridged flow of the Menai Strait, the dramatic landscape that surrounds those of us lucky enough to live in Bangor every day. Yet, how often do we taste what nature has to offer us? How often do we venture out of the artificial realities that modern technology bestows upon us to feel the wind upon our faces, and to let our hearts sing with joy? Personally, I know that I haven’t got out as often as I would like. I’ve spent more time in Llanberis lake (Llyn Padarn) than on it. I’ve climbed Snowdon 4 times, but no other peaks. Do I regret this? A little bit (and a note to new students – make the most of it!).
But does this limit my enjoyment? No. Every day, I wake to see Puffin Island revealed in yet another beautiful new way from my bedroom window. When I sit back in my office, I do my ponderings to the backdrop of the North Wales coast and the Great Orme. The all encompassing beauty lifts me each and every day – penetrating day to day activities.
It’s the same in other areas. In health, we might not rejoice every day in the health that we have, but we enjoy it nonetheless. In transport, we rarely end a train journey and think “gosh, I’m glad I didn’t have to do that by horse and cart”. In education, we rarely count our blessings that we didn’t get beaten at school from one day to the next.
Sometimes, we do take time out to ponder the things we take for granted – this blog serendipitously written on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. telling the world of a dream that, even if not quite fully realised, is better than some of our ancestors might have dared to dream.
And so, to the original, somewhat oversimplified question. Do exceptional occurrences shed their power when taken for granted? Or are they devalued by having become ordinary? Or, perhaps worst of all, do we abuse that which we take for granted, ceasing our responsibilities as custodians of this planet in exchange for short term personal gain?
My experience is the subconscious emotions drive by the normalised “extraordinaries”* that fill our life do permeate into the way we live our life. Sometimes they raise their head above the parapet – a particularly beautiful sunset perhaps, or spending time with a loved one not blessed with good health. But even when I’m taking these things for granted, I’m aware that they exist – I’m aware I don’t live in metropolitan London, and grateful for that.
Anyhoo. I guess the moral is that we all take things for granted, and sometimes we need to step back to appreciate our privileges. As freshers’ madness sets in, perhaps it would do us good to reflect not only on the hardships of student life, but on the immense luck we have, as free human beings, to explore, to develop, and to have fun. Indeed, it is our very ability to take extraordinary moments for granted that should be questioned, challenged, and then, and only then, be taken for granted.
*yes, this isn’t a word. Yes, I made it up. No, it doesn’t quite make sense – but it does generally convey the meaning I’m aiming for, so it’ll do 🙂