-by Carl Josehart
contains roads that no longer exist
long since destroyed
he holds on tightly to it
somehow worshipping its secrets
checking it frequently
trying to measure his progress
making complicated calculations
forcing modern reality onto mythical antiquity
the edges of the known universe in the time of the map
fit into the palm of our world’s hand
yet he believes
all roads and direction emanate from its portrayal of the world
omniscient predetermination of essential paths
emanating from a map, “the map”
he is fighting for an organizing purpose
and is willing to lay down the burden of reality
to experience the rapture
of a benevolent map
– Josehart, 1997
The comfort of well-worn paths often can lead us to long for the “good old days” but as Andre Gide wrote, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” and maps only exist for the places that have already been discovered. If we are going to ever reach new heights or explore new worlds we have to be willing to become explorers and blaze new trails.
So even though I do find myself at times becoming nostalgic for a time when Dick Tracy’s watch seemed like science fiction; if the price of going back means it would still be illegal for inter-racial couples to marry, or women to vote, or same sex couples to marry then I will settle for my memories of a simpler time.
My great grandmother, born in a shtetl in Eastern Europe lived to see the first manned space flight, my parents lived to see the cure for polio, and I lived to see a time when I could legally marry my husband. To wish to go back to the past is to wish away all of the progress that has been hard won in the world; to wish away seeing the birth of nieces and nephews that enrich my life and to wish away friends that I cannot imagine life without. The truth is that life is hard and although every generation will solve some of the problems of generations past – they will also likely create new ones for future generations.
The question is not whether to move forward but rather what to take with us. The most successful people, and societies, cherish the best of the past and honor those things by bringing them forward. They also can lighten the burden of future generations by letting go of those the mistakes of the past to make room for new hopes and dreams. Ancient maps help us understand the world of our ancestors but are ill equipped to help us discover new worlds.
Whether you believe in evolution, intelligent design, creation or some combination of all of these things. Our customs, laws and way of life have been in a constant state of evolution. I believe our intellects were created to help us explore the world around us and to continually discover knowledge and I believe that what I understand to be my soul was given to us to make sure that knowledge is always tempered with values so that knowledge is used for the good of society. There is a Guinean proverb that teaches, “Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand” it nurtures no growth and is quickly lost. Wisdom and values are like the roots of a plant – they allow the water to become absorbed and provide nourishment and sustenance for growth.
Before we understood what a solar eclipse was it would have been reasonable to see the unexpected darkness as a dire omen, perhaps a sign from an angry god. New social mores and norms no doubt are disorienting to people who grew up with different norms. I often see children touching televisions or lighted signs expecting them to be responsive like their phones or tablets having been born when such functionality is common and expected but it was not so long ago that I saw a fax machine for the first time and wondered at the magic of how it worked.
It is important to realize that as social mores change – lgbt soldiers serving openly in the military, same-sex marriage becoming commonplace or certain ethnicities or religious beliefs becoming a more sizable portion of our society – lack of knowledge and familiarity can cause misunderstanding and fear. The mistake would be to confuse fear with value, worth or danger. Just as we need to update our maps to reflect growth and progress in our communities – new streets and neighborhoods, new highways or public transit stops – we need to update our view of the world to encompass new knowledge and new experiences.
To paraphrase an Irish blessing:
As you set sail to discover new oceans and worlds
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And as you lose sight of the shore of your home
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand and guide you safely on your journey