The difference between knowing and, well, knowing

Side note: Whenever I think of Walt Whitman, I automatically call him Uncle Walt in my head because of the “barbaric yawp” scene from Dead Poets’ Society.  Anyone else do that?

I recently read a poem that really speaks to my heart.  It’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

I love the juxtaposition of the lecture hall—with its professor, the “learn’d astronomer,” his charts, diagrams, proofs, figures, and finally the applause he receives—and the silent majesty of the stars themselves.  In one, the poet has the opportunity to learn something about the stars through abstract and scientific means, and in the other he learns something through direct involvement with – getting out and looking at – the stars.

In so many things in life, we are like mere listeners at a lecture.  We think we can become knowledgeable about the world just by acquiring knowledge.  Of course, with some things our only option is to learn, and we should increase our knowledge no matter our circumstances.  However, how many times do we abstractly think about something – nature, cooking, art, literature, poetry, health, writing – and not dive into it?

I have over 50 boards and 4,000 “pins” on Pinterest.  I love Pinterest.  My most popular boards (to me) are currently my breakfast board, sweet recipes board, literacy and language board, and kid crafts and activities board.  I think Pinterest is great for obsessive organizers because you can organize pieces of information so neatly.  I like to peruse the things that I’ve pinned, and occasionally – only occasionally – do I dig out an idea and try it.  I will check out the numerous children’s book lists and find some to request from the library.  And I am collecting recipes to use for my {future} bread machine (because when I am off this eating program, I am getting a bread machine – and eating bread).  And it’s been useful to determine my real clothing style, since I’m in the process of replacing my entire wardrobe with 50 pounds lost so far this year.  But do I check out a lot more than that?  Not really.  Do I still spend a few minutes every day stashing away ideas on my boards?  Yes.  Am I alone in this?  {Pretty sure that’s a big Nope.}

All the extra information we have available in this day and age can make us feel like an expert in things that we’ve never really experienced.  Remember, “But I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night”?  But I think I need to be like the poet and leave the pin boards and the internet and the fountains of information in search of experience.  Try those recipes.  Hit the trails.  Put the words on paper (er, screen).  Search the books and the ideas behind the world’s greatest words for myself.  And yourself, if you have these tendencies as well.

Join me outside the lecture hall, looking at the stars.


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