Long ago I found an ad in an old National Geographic magazine that gave me one of those unintended moments of enlightenment. It caught me as funny at the time so I cut it out and it floats around my various collections of clippings waiting for me to find it again when I least expect it. Sometimes life reminds me of this ad and I realize the truth that had nothing to do with its intended purpose.
Imagine a two-inch wide column running down the side of the magazine. On that white page there is a small box drawn with a dashed line to indicate something is missing, the box is a little over one and a half inch square. It is an advertisement for a brand of photographic slide film, the box indicating a missing slide, and beneath it is the tag line
The World Is This Big
The world they’re talking about is the one that could be captured using their product, pale imitations of life, but the second I saw it I was struck with the beauty and honesty of the statement that the world is easily contained within that small space.
And indeed it is. Every time I meet a stranger and find half a dozen connections with other people and places in my life or experience, I remember how big the world really is. Yes, it is the small world cliche, but it’s also the hard reality that no matter how big we think the world is, no matter how wide its physical space, it’s scope of thought and wonder, the reality is that we’re all connected to an imaginary realm that could easily fit in the palm of our hand.
I got kicked in the head earlier today and was reminded how small the world was, and smaller still. I had checked into the my school’s forum and entered into a topic discussion concerning the portrayal of boys emotions in literature. I was barely awake but something else inside me was in control and I found myself concocting some half-baked notions that confused two separate issues — how boys read versus what how to portray what gets written for and about boys — and in no time all these incredibly smart people that I go to school with were all over the place discussing socialization and physiology and gender bias and…
I felt like an ass. Especially when one of the faculty so plainly said a few posts later in the thread “The job of the writer is to be able to focus that 1-inch window on whatever slant of light she, or he, finds compelling.” And there is was again, my window of just how big the world really is and what is really important.