“What words could you use which would give another the experience of sunshine?”
–Lois Lowry, The Giver
This is the true mystery of The Giver. The true wonder of writing. Because the Giver has a point. There are no words to capture what sunshine is, nor even the words to recreate the simple pleasure of sledding down a hill on a sunny day. Experience trumps art, it seems. Or perhaps not.
I was thinking earlier today about the difference between a scientist and an artist, or more particularly, a poet. How does a scientist look at a town when asked to map it? And how does a poet map that same town?
I suspect the scientist would see a world of pattern, a city which–given enough time–would repeat the same cycles over and over. People walk through the same streets at the same times every week. The same shops open on the same days. The streets are set. Naturally, there will be change due to entropy, and change due to development. But for the most part, those are slow, gradual changes. The city is a set of patterns. There is nothing particularly spectacular about it. The map will be finished quickly, and important patterns noted in a report.
But, oh! To the poet, the city is restless. Seen just a few minutes later or earlier, in different lighting, in a different mood–the city changes. It lives as its inhabitants do. There are steady points and wild ones, places that remain constant throughout the weeks and those that change even as I watch them. The map will constantly evolve. In the margins, the poet will scribble strange words that have nothing to do with mapping. The finished product will be much more like a puzzle than a map. But it will be beautiful.
And to walk through that city that was already mapped–that is a completely different experience. The walker can see how the scientist’s map shows the way and how the poet’s map paints the skies. But the walker, the one experiencing the town, has a unique view. That walker lives what the poet and the scientist have described.
And yet somehow, the scientist’s map and the poet’s puzzle are helpful, even necessary. We need someone to show us the way through the city. The scientist does that. We need someone to shake us out of our routines. The poet does that. We need someone to accompany us through the dark streets and to share a cup of coffee with. The walker does that. Not everyone can be scientist, poet, and walker–only a very few brilliant and blessed minds. So while it may be regrettable that not everyone can feel the warmth of the sun while lying on a grassy hill, I don’t think we can’t experience some of the same pleasure just by reading what the scientist and the poet have to say. Each view is different and provides a distinct pleasure. But the walker, the poet, and the scientistall create something beautiful.