It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau’s words hold an important truth, but to truly see we first actually have to look. It is so easy to pass over the extraordinary that is all around us because we fail to look for it; distracted by the obvious, caught up in the busyness of life, or simply because we have lost the capacity for wonder.
I’ve been in Canberra for a few days for work, and yesterday was able to get outside for an hour to walk around the old parliamentary precinct. All around me was beauty. It was a cloudless day. There were avenues of deciduous trees, lush with bright green summer leaves. The pristine whiteness of Old Parliament House against the hot blue sky, contrasted with the raggedly defiant tent embassy in the parkland opposite. It was quiet, almost hushed. I paused to read a plaque next to an oddly moving public sculpture of two war-time politicians and statesmen and then sat in a park enjoying the cool breeze and the shade.
I wondered if the government workers who were walking about in twos and threes, buying their lunches or a coffee, even noticed what I was so intensely seeing and experiencing, or if it was just the backdrop to their daily lives, the landscape of the ordinary, barely noticed because of its familiarity. I wanted to shout aloud that they were missing something wonderful, to tell them to stop and look about them, to appreciate the beautiful city they live in, to pause and wonder.
What a challenge to all of us. To really look at our everyday world, to look deeply into it; the beauty, the special characteristics that make it unique, even the ugliness, and to not let familiarity diminish our capacity to really see. And as a traveller, it is more than a challenge, it is a responsibility that comes with the privilege of of being, even for a short time, in another place and culture.