PELICANS AND REALITY

Before summer ends stroll out to the tip of the long pier that slides like a spear into the Gulf of Mexico from the Biloxi Lighthouse. Quiet your mind and open your senses. The sun embraces you, the water gently slaps the girders below and a steady breeze strokes your face and tosses your hair. Squadron after squadron of brown pelicans glide serenely by, sometimes as high as you can throw a rock, sometimes only inches above the water. If you sit there long enough, you begin to notice individuals surfing the currents mid-air, scanning the surface below for fish. All of a sudden one of them pulls in his wings and curves into a 60 foot high dive! He disappears with a small splash, immediately bobs back up, and floats like a cork for a few moments. You imagine that he is either knocking back the fish he’s caught or reviewing his flawed technique. While he is floating there a second one a little farther off dives, and a third. Then the first pelican pushes his wings back out, beats back gravity and climbs into the late afternoon sky. At intervals the other two leave the surface for the sky, and, in a kind of ballet, the three birds repeat the sequence over and over and over.

The pelicans, the fish, the waves, the breeze and the sun perpetrate an eternal moment, doing what they have done for millennia. If you stay there long enough you might eventually enter into that moment yourself and become aware of a rhythm, almost like breathing, beneath the surface of things at the root of existence, which is completely independent of and indifferent to the scurrying and worrying of humans. This is a reality different from ours.

Staying there, like that, for an hour or so, is a mini vacation, but, as with all vacations, you eventually have to re-enter normal life. So you turn your back to the pelicans and begin the long walk back to the beach and the crowd. Halfway along the way you see a couple of bearded, disheveled middle-aged men sitting and conversing on a bench on one side of the pier. Somehow you know they are going to speak to you and it takes you only a moment to assess the situation and prepare a response. As you get closer you notice a few crude drawings on shells at their feet. Yep – just as you thought, but no problem – you’ve practiced this many times. Brief eye contact, a friendly smile, a cheerful “No thanks” and then steady progress forward. When they see that you aren’t going to buy anything they immediately return to their conversation and you are forgotten. Next you see a young couple approaching, and you avoid staring at them because you don’t want to intrude. A family with small children heads your way and you start to pay closer attention to your balance. You don’t want to lose it if a child accidentally bumps into you, nor do you want to step on any small toes. You slide as close to the rail as possible as they pass.

When you turned away from the pelicans, you entered a second, parallel reality. You can still feel the sun and the breeze, but they have become minor nuisances, and the waves and pelicans might as well be a million miles away. You are re-entering human society.

Back among humans on the beach, you look across U.S. 90 and notice 50 or so Pokémon goers on the lawn of the visitors’ center. Younger and older, male and female, they walk around randomly, staring at their cell phones and gesturing. They are moving about in a third reality, which teems with creatures and challenges that don’t exist anywhere else. Are these creatures and challenges actually real? Define “real.” They are real enough for people in that reality to plan their lives around.

Same universe, three parallel realities. But there are many more than just three…because, in a sense, we are all creators. We each construct, at great cost and with great effort, distinct realities, and who’s to say which of them is better or worse than any other? No wonder liberals, conservatives, and neo-conservatives have trouble finding common ground. But whether we understand one another’s realities or not mutual respect should be where we start from – because a creature capable of creation is a priori worthy of respect.

The fact that we have all created our own reality is why “objective” reality is so important. It is a touchstone for all others – a neutral place where everyone can meet and agree on something. That is also why science is important. It is the method by which the rules and characteristics of objective reality are determined. That’s why logic is so important. It is the method by which individual creators can communicate in a productive way. And that is why love is important. It is a way for subjective realities to interface.

Just a few thoughts on pelicans.

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