God is in the details – Part 2

Giraffe's Tongue
Small details – or long ones like this giraffe's tongue – can mean more than they seem

As we saw in the last entry, details add meaning to a trip because they help you focus on one specific aspect of your journey, a simple image that symbolizes the broader experience. Details represent the moments of meaning because they stand out from all the stimuli you encountered and are easier to visualize later.

For example, if you ask me about a trip I took many years ago to Japan, I can’t describe well the street scenes or buildings of Tokyo. Those are mostly a blur to me. But I do remember specific details such as:

  • the intense heat of the water in the Japanese bath at my guest house
  • the plastic displays of menu items in a restaurant’s window that enabled me to point rather than order in a language I didn’t know
  • the impeccable fashion of everyone around me
  • and most of all, getting off the bus from Narita airport in downtown Tokyo around midnight and seeing as my first introduction to Tokyo, two drunk businessmen helping a third as he is throwing up in the gutter. Welcome to Japan, I thought…

Thus, not all the details are pleasant, but they inform. They paint a picture and provide meaning. And sometimes when we travel, that meaning is much deeper than we expect, something of greater significance than a microcosm or symbol of the place itself.

For example, about halfway through my time in Tokyo, I reached a point where I was overwhelmed by the crowds and noise of one of the world’s most densely populated cities. So for reasons I still don’t understand completely, I decided to visit the Tokyo Zoo. I remember little about the rest of the animals, but in a quiet corner, I came across the giraffe exhibit. And as I stood there alone – a surprising experience in itself – one of the giraffes came over not five feet from me and began eating from an overhanging tree.

What stood out then and even now, however, was the giraffe’s tongue. Not only was it long enough to use for some decent jump rope maneuvers, it was purplish black. I’d seen giraffes before at other zoos, but not this close and I’d never seen a tongue this color before. I stood there for who knows how long, fascinated by this creature and its eating technique.

That mental picture of the giraffe and its tongue is a detail, a snapshot that represents not just the animal but all that I was going through emotionally and spiritually at the time. It conveys the deeper meaning and associations of surprise; at the giraffe (in the middle of Tokyo) and its tongue, at the break from the crowds, and at the ability of this small moment to restore my soul.

This brief, wondrous respite was a gift from God. He knew exactly what I needed even when I didn’t. And that little detour, break and novel experience reinvigorated me for the rest of my day in Tokyo.

Whenever I see a giraffe today, I think of Tokyo. Not your common association, I realize. But more importantly, the image – that small detail – reminds me of how God provides for us, no matter where we may roam.

It’s a detail that seems so little. But its one that means so much.

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