A World Unto Itself

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One of the best and most creative gifts I have received is the plant in a jar pictured above. The moss is caked in soil, and the cork keeps it snug and shut inside. The jar is a world of its own.

At first you might be tempted to think it is merely moss, and a small specimen at that; however, I would implore you to look deeper. In keeping with the metaphor: dig!

The plant can only survive, because bacteria in the soil fix the nitrogen in a process that makes the nutrients palatable to the plant. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of small organisms are working together to help sustain the bigger organism.

To carry this idea even further, the plant is composed of innumerable cells that form tissues that make the plant a complete and functional being.

The cells have organelles, small parts that help with performing a specific and necessary function. Mitochondria and chloroplasts take energy present in the environment and convert into a form that cell can use. Vacuoles store waste. The cell wall gives the cell structure, a strong and sturdy foundation. DNA and RNA are proteins that weave the fabric of the plant’s being. They tell the plant who it truly is, at its essence.

Water, minerals, sunlight. All of these components contribute to the plant. Living and nonliving factors work to show that it is not merely an object, but a being which is constantly becoming.

The world within the jar is analogous to the imagination. Many would argue that the imagination is something entirely separate from what we call reality. My jar is a part of reality because it is tangible. You can reach out and touch it. Furthermore, the plant is in the state of becoming. It exits within the limitations of time and space.

But one should remember that time and space are measurements. These ideas are tools which can number the finite, but serve as poor tools to calculate what is infinite. Time and space give us discipline. Use time wisely, because death is imminent. Respect the space of others. These are good ideas and important ones too, but how do you make sense of the intangible and the immeasurable?

Love, mercy, beauty, and creativity. In the English language, we call these words abstract nouns. They mean different things to different people. Creativity can apply to Shakespeare composing his plays, Kanye making a new rap album, and a toddler who stacks books and climbs them in order to reach candy on a high counter. Love describes both the firefighter who sacrifices his life for the good of his people, and the young dating couple consumed with one another.

From a young age, we learn to eschew abstractions. Good writers create images. They work in terms of the specific and the concrete. This dictum is mostly true. Abstract language is generally lazy language, but that doesn’t mean we have to dismiss the  abstract entirely.

Most of our existence is abstraction. When a schoolboy is bored with the lesson, he looks out the window and gazes at the landscape. He stares at a tree with its leaves falling in the vivid colors of autumn, and his mind synchronizes with the life of the tree. The boy becomes the tree and the wind simultaneously. He loses himself to become something higher than himself, something more urgent and more demanding than the science lesson. The blue sky cries out to him, beckoning him, a stranger with the face of a familiar friend.

When you’re bored with the rhythms of work, you don’t need to be mindful, so your mind travels elsewhere. To exist always and forever in the moment is to be a serf on the fief of time, and it is not suitable for any constituent of this world to be enslaved to the means of its measurement.

At such times, it devolves upon us to use our imaginative faculties, and to enter the kingdom of abstraction. Each person possesses his or her own mind, which for its span of life has a sort of eternal quality. Possibilities and empty particles bounce off each other. We can make images with the electricity in our brains. Literature, art, music, in all of their enduring beauty, are only the tangible exports of a country far greater than mere geographical knowledge can attest to. The law of this country is the abstract. The mind is a box that opens into smaller boxes ad infinitum. Very few of us will truly comprehend the gravity of this, but like the plant in the jar, each person is a world unto himself.

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