Touching The Sphinx

October 3, 2010

If  you visit the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park in Los Angeles on a public viewing night,  you are encouraged to look into the heavens through actual galaxy penetrating telescopes.  Griffith J. Griffith thought the perspective of plain, ordinary people might be broadened if the common (wo)man were able to have free access to the stars.  And because of his generosity, more people have seen stars through the Griffith Observatory Telescopes than any other telescopes in the world.

During my visit – the astronomer/guide said something to me (and everyone else within earshot)  as I bent over the eyepiece.  It was not a secret – just something he said over and over again to all the would-be astronomers, most of whom were unused to this experience: “You are actually seeing the planet Saturn with your own eyes.  You are not looking at a picture.  Though you have seen Saturn all your life in pictures, this may be the very first time you are actually seeing Saturn and her beautiful rings with your own eyes.”

Seeing with your own eyes.

I praise the artists of the old and new media for interpreting reality and having the guts to publicly declare their perspective. They are the ones who take us on location if we can’t be there ourselves. There is unquestioned transformative power in the work of the Hudson River School Painters hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or in seeing Guernica at the Museum of Modern Art .

But, nothing beats seeing IT with your own eyes.

There is a qualitative difference between seeing a hard copy,  or an electronic image, and having the actual light from the actual star or planet, or light that bounces directly off the actual event come in and hit you square in the brain. You react differently.  In part because of the context in which you receive the image.  In part because the quality is different.

Viewing an IMAX version of Niagara Falls, even if the theater is down the block from the actual falls, let alone watching that stream on your mobile device, is not experiencing the power of Niagara.

What about touching with your own hands? Will there ever be an electronic substitute for that?

I was in downtown Chicago the other day, and walked into a beautiful old building’s lobby – to feel the awe of being inside a shrine of one of houses of worship I favor.  This one is a shrine to our First Amendment – especially Freedom of the Press.  Carved on its walls were this and other similar noble words and sentiments.

It was that great sanctuary of  journalism – Tribune Tower. One of  the most beautiful office buildings in the world.  Headquarters of a shrinking media conglomerate that owns daily newspapers and TV stations in the USA’s largest markets.

Tribune Company is now operating out of bankruptcy, thanks to the leveraging and de-leveraging of the money men, and the changing habits of an increasingly fickle viewsing public. But, as of this writing, The Tribune company’s various media outlets were still meeting daily deadlines. It is after-all, a media empire founded on journalism.

Like any great house of worship, or cathedral of commerce, or in this case, a combination of the two, it is a beautiful place to experience!

And how beautiful the outside of the building is as well.

Literally embedded on the outside of the building and thus open to the public 24/7 – are actual pieces of carefully selected stones and artifacts brought back by far-flung journalists and correspondents when they returned from reporting around the world.

What kind of connections can a person who has never left their neighborhood, or city or country make, when they can actually touch a piece of the Kremlin in Moscow, or Independence Hall in Philadelphia or Mark Twain’s “Injun Joe” cave in Hannibal, Missouri?  How about the Dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral, or the Great Wall of China, or the Taj Mahal?

They are there for the touching. 150 of the places you have read about all your life.  And you can touch each of them, with your own hands, without leaving downtown Chicago

There is power in touching these artifacts.  A physical connection is made.

The more we find time to put the media away, and the more touching with our own hands and seeing with our own eyes we do, the better off we, as a society, will be. Call it what you want. Unplug. Recenter.

Take the time to touch the Sphinx.





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