Close Encounters

As college students, we are constantly under pressure to take advantage of every opportunity to learn. Everything we do is a “learning experience.” Every place we go, we’re not just supposed to appreciate the mere fact that we’re there, but we must extract every ounce of knowledge to be had from the environment. Experiences don’t exist merely for experiencing, but for learning. That is the college mindset. In fact, that is the mindset of much of our society. We are, to put it crudely, supposed to rape every experience of it’s beauty for our selfish desire to learn. But is that really what we are supposed to do?
What if life isn’t just about learning? Sure, there are adequate places for learning, acquiring knowledge, filling ourselves with intellect. But what if some experiences, places, and people are meant to exist just to be experienced and loved for their beauty? Let me give two examples from my life this past week.
Friday afternoon, I took the Greyhound bus up to visit my sister in Philadelphia. On the way, I was reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by CS Lewis. The last part of the book consists of Lewis describing, in some of the most beautiful language, the End of the World. It describes so vividly the water, lillies, wind, and just life. I was moved to tears by this description. Not because I could turn around and “learn” something, but just because I got to experience it. I can’t take this experience and become a better, more knowledgeable person. All I can do is be grateful for having been allowed to see God in the words of this author.
Saturday afternoon, I came back on the Greyhound. As I left the station, a homeless man catches up to me and starts a conversation with me. He approached me! In ten minutes, I was given an opportunity to be a part of an experience I will never forget. This man told me his life story, his fears, what he needed. Can I learn from this experience? Yeah, if I really think about it, I can probably extract something that I could use to further my own knowledge of the world, or of homeless people. But I don’t want to learn from this. I want to be transformed, a completely different experience. If I try to see what I can take from my interaction with Harold, I am reducing the experience to a selfish desire. Instead, I can allow that interaction to penetrate me, to fill me with love for him and for other people. I can be grateful for the experience, and let that transform my heart, not my intellect.
There is plenty of room for learning at college. Developing the mind is essential. BUT, is that all life is about? No, decidely not. Transforming the heart, and just loving things for the experience is as much an important thing as learning in the head is. That is why I am not a philosphy major. That is why I am a musician and an English major. I want to experience life, not just learn about it.


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