In his fantastical account of “The Unthinkable Theory of Professor Green,” G.K. Chesterton invites us to imagine an astronomer regaling his audience in great and gorgeous detail about a strange new planet he’s just discovered. Only gradually do we realize that this utterly amazing place is in fact our very own world, replete with wonders we’d scarcely been aware of before.
Isn’t this the whole point of travel? Not to poke around places and people of such weirdness that you’d swear you’d wandered onto a sci-fi movie set. Do we really want to run into a community of pod people while on holiday? Wasn’t it bad enough watching “The Night of the Living Dead” on television? Who needs a close encounter with the real thing on a vacation?
Again, Chesterton has the sense of it. “It is not,” he tells us, “to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” And isn’t this the challenge that awaits us all? How to arrest the attention sufficiently to allow us to stand in silent awe before the real world? When jadedness sets in, we need a sudden jolt to set the circuits going again. We need to open up the hood and let the wind sweep out all that is sour and stale on the inside. Indeed, without a sense of wonder, and at least some minimal capacity for surprise and delight, we will never awaken to that “dearest freshness deep down things” (Gerard Manley Hopkins).