One of the marvelous things about modern technology is that it can make it possible for people to visit a time and a place out of their own past. Television shows, for instance, have been bombarding us with so many images for most of our lives that some can have a curious, lingering effect on our psyches even though we don’t actually remember the show. With-in the last twenty years or so, more and more in recent years, these shows have become widely available on various media (VHS, Beta, DVD, Blu-ray) and through them, you can revisit parts of your childhood. Sometimes, you can get surprised at what once spurred your imagination.
An example is the British TV show The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, which aired in 1956-1957 in the USA. I remember watching this on our first, tiny TV set. It is, in fact, the earliest TV show I do remember watching. All I consciously re-member, however, was this wonderful jousting scene. A couple of years ago, I was able to acquire this show on DVD and learned two things. First, the jousting scene I remembered was the opening credits and the constant repetition was probably why I consciously remembered that. Second, the story lines were close to the actual Arthurian legends that I remember best. It is likely, I now believe, that my life- long interest in the Arthurian cycle (I even persuaded my wife to name our sons after characters from it) was born in that one TV season from thirty episodes of a half-hour show watched on a 12-inch, round-screened TV. More recently, I acquired some episodes of another 1950’s era show I watched called Whirlybirds (1957- 1959), which is where my interest in helicopters was born. It seemed to me that when the pilots flew the helicopters, it was just like they were strapping on wings. Fifteen years later, I managed to achieve a level of experience and ability as a helicopter pilot where it was just like that — you strapped on the helicopter and it did whatever you thought about having it do. You didn’t fly it — it was part of you.
I’d forgotten about these shows, on a conscious level. I couldn’t remember any episode of either one of them on a dare. It was only when I re-watched them that I felt the rekindling of a strong desire that I must have felt nearly sixty years ago. Now, you might think that I’m getting ready to talk to you about sex and violence on modern TV shows: well, I’m not. I watched a lot of Three Stooges shows and Roadrunner cartoons too, but I never had a desire to poke anyone in the eyes with my fingers or drop a safe on anyone from an Acme balloon. The difference between these last two shows and the first two is in imagining, I think. As a boy, I could imagine myself being a Knight of the Round Table or a helicopter pilot and doing good things for other people just like the knights and pilots did. Though they were funny to watch, nothing really good came out of a Three Stooges episode or a Roadrunner cartoon. I could never see myself doing any of those things. What a child can imagine itself being, its adult self may become, if the desire to be that has been ignited in the heart. The failure of a person to be a success, as that person measures such, may actually be a failure of imagination rather than performance.
I have been fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) in achieving my dreams. Most of them, I managed by the time I was thirty-five — I thought it would take longer. That means I’ve had no dream to follow for the last three decades. That’s like trying to steer a boat with no rudder and no sun or stars for navigation. My last dream is to be-come a wise old man: the shaman of legend. Now, the “man” part I’ve managed and the “old” bit is coming along at a steady pace — perhaps even little too well for comfort — so, two out of three are covered. The wise part, however, is proving to be a problem. The way this is going, no mountaintop advice-giver will I ever be. It seems that every time I acquire a nugget of wisdom gold, I suddenly realize it was just a rock all along. True wisdom seems to be just beyond the tips of my fingers. Frustrating, it is, this search for wisdom. To find something, though, you have to be able to imagine it — otherwise, how will you know if you found it.. So, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not suffering a failure of imagination with this dream — I can’t find wisdom because I can’t imagine what it really is. The more I consider that, the more I think failure of the imagination may be a common problem in our modern world.
We often refer to something that is easy as being “child’s play.” If child’s play is indeed the world of imagination as I think, there’s nothing easy about it. Our failure of imagination may be the source of some of the problems of our world. Can we really imagine ourselves loving each other as much as we love ourselves? Can we imagine ourselves without preju-dice toward anyone — race, religion, background, orientation: all being inconsequential? Can we imagine ourselves at peace? If we can’t even imagine these things, can they ever come to pass?
And if we can’t imagine those things, how can we imagine that one man was willing to die for all of us? How can we imagine we’re worth it? How can we imagine being saved?
~ Kurt Hendrix