Sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell: they are our only means of bearing witness to and possibly gaining some understanding of the surprising pageantry of the weird world we find ourselves plunged into. This sensory input provides us with the raw ingredients which time distills, and which our mind, that arcane mixologist, stirs and crafts into complex cocktails of dreams, memories, imagination, and emotions. A flash of lightning; a lullaby; a creaking floorboard; the smell of a wet dog; a burst of laughter from an adjacent room, distilled over time; might form a sonnet, a dance, a dreamscape, or a song.
A hedonist through and through, I am continually enthralled by the immeasurable pleasures of the senses. The taste of dark chocolate or ice-cold water from a mountain stream. The smell of roasting coffee, fairground popcorn, woodsmoke, ocean brine, summer rain, freshly dug truffles. The sounds of distant trains and steel guitars. The warmth of a touch, the feeling of early summer sunshine on an upturned face. If these things aren’t magic, they are close enough.
And for me, few things compare to the primal enchantment that is cast by light. I have a dodgy memory for names, faces, and dates, but an eerily good one for specific qualities of luminescence. The neon glow of Chinatown in the rain; the luminous silvered lamp of a full winter moon; gold and blue flames dancing along crackling logs in a ski lodge in the Rockies. The bright pictures are projected like magic lantern slides on the inside of my head.
My earliest memories of storytelling involve being taught to use a table lamp to cast shadow puppets – a rabbit, a wolf, a bird – bringing rudimentary fairy-tales to life upon the walls of my childhood bedroom. Despite a Catholic mother, the closest I have come to being profoundly moved by any of the trappings of Christianity are recollections of sunlight pouring through stained glass windows, the glimmer of multicolored lights adorning a Christmas tree, the radiance of hundreds of candles burning in an Italian cathedral. If there is a holy ghost, I believe she flits about from place to place as both a particle and a wave.
I think we can agree that it’s often enough a challenging and mystifying existence. Looking for a meaningful life, time and again we are let down by intellectual abstractions. At best the twists and turns of our overthinking, over analyzing minds are a distraction from whatever joys are to be found. At worst, our convoluted brains can become a bewildering labyrinth: its twisting passages leading us far away from the real world, through dark chambers filled with monsters.
Philosophies and perspectives come and go. Faith ignites and burns itself out. It’s the profound, visceral pleasures of sensory experience, though, that will heal us if we let them. It’s they that have me desiring to live, have me wanting to keep coming back for more. Waking up each day, if only to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel what new wonders will be revealed next.