Who would know?

by Steve Brock on June 15, 2017

Who would know? Pathway and treesLong before we ever had cable or the Internet (yes kids, there was such a time), a local television station used to run old movies every evening at 8 p.m. One summer evening as a kid of maybe eight or nine, having apparently nothing better to do, I gave this channel a shot. I had never before paid attention to any movie older than I was. But soon I was immersed in an old Bob Hope movie, Son of Paleface, and it was more entertaining than most of the more recent movies I’d seen.

A whole new world opened to me that evening. I realized that these so-called classic movies could be, well, actually good. But another epiphany occurred that evening as well.

In the movie, Bob Hope’s character at several points says or does something funny even though no other actors are in the scene. As a kid, I didn’t make the obvious connection that he was doing that for us, the audience. At the time, what struck me was that you could make a joke or do an amusing antic that no one else would ever see. But it wouldn’t matter. You did it just for you.

Who would know? Tree stumpFlash forward to last weekend when my wife and I were hiking. On a pristine trail with few signs of human intervention other than the pathway itself, we came across an old tree stump with a new tree growing out of it. I had walked right past the tree on our way out. But on the return, I noticed something unusual.

Someone had adhered a set of googly eyes to the trunk. A closer look revealed not just one set, but many. In fact, when I began inspecting the dead tree, I realized that there were these small quarter-inch or smaller white plastic circles with black dots inside them all over the tree.

Who put them there? Why? Did they leave all these eyes at once? Or did they start with just a few and other people added to it over time?

My response to Son of Paleface came flooding back. What if someone had done this just for themselves? Or perhaps a group of friends had added the eyes just as an inside joke among them? Whatever the back story, it raised some intriguing (well, at least to me, which is part of the point here) questions:

  • Who would know? Googly eyesDoes anyone else need to ever see the work (or joke or art or whatever) that you do for it to have meaning?
  • Is there even greater value when you do something anonymously, almost as a gift to others?
  • Can random acts of kindness (or humor or creation) have halo effects and continue long beyond their original intentions?
  • How much do I do because I care what people think about me or my work? What if I did more things that no one ever knew were mine? What would happen? To them? To me?

All this reminded me of my oldest son who is a graphic designer. He periodically goes out and finds some item — a piece of broken pottery, an abandoned display case, an old sign — brings it home and paints it or adds some other media to make it into a work of art. He then returns the enhanced piece to the place he found it. Trash to treasure.

He never knows if anyone ever even sees the work. But it doesn’t matter. Or maybe it does. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t know how people respond to it is the best part of it.

Who would know? Eyes on branch

What if we did more of our work as if we didn’t care what others thought? What if we didn’t worry about the response to our efforts but simply strove to add beauty or humor or interest or hope in even the most unlikely places? What if no one knew we did any of this except for God? And what if we invited God into our secret creations and acts of beauty and good will?

What if?


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Surprise and wonder

by Steve Brock on July 17, 2013

I’m in Louisbourg, the recreated 18th century fort on the island of Nova Scotia, Canada. I’ve seen many of the reinactors throughout the day, especially those playing the role of soldiers as in this photo.

Soldiers at LouisbourgExcept for the modern-day spectacles on a few of the actors, nothing seems amiss.

Until I look more closely.

Actually, I didn’t look very closely when I took this next photo. I just liked the composition of the posts and the soldier leaning against the wall.

Leaning Soldier at LouisbourgBut after I snapped the shot, the person playing the soldier smiled at me. This actor, I gather, is used to being photographed. After all, that’s part of what they are there for. But when I saw the soldier smile, as small a thing as it is and as weird as this may sound, I had a bit of a shock. A surprise that bordered on wonder.

Wonder and surprise are interrelated. I’d say that surprise, in many cases, is a mild form of wonder. We can be surprised by something new or just by the suddenness of encountering something unexpected. And such was the case here. For if you look at the soldier closely, that isn’t a guy (as you would logically expect since in the 17oo’s I seriously doubt any soldiers were women).

She had this beautiful smile because she was a beautiful young woman dressed in this soldier’s outfit. Because I didn’t expect it, it threw me for quite a loop. Why?

First, I was embarrassed because she was aware of my taking her picture. That seemed to be fine because she continued to pose for me afterwards (though none of the other photos were as interesting). Still, I felt as if I was busted, like staring at a person you don’t realize you’re staring at until they give you a quizzical look.

Second, I had this fleeting feeling of being back in high school around a pretty girl and not knowing what to say. Silly, I know, but I was so taken aback that I was rather tongue-tied.

Third, I was surprised that I was surprised. By this I mean that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed earlier that this soldier was female. How could I have missed that?

Thus, the real wonder (if we can really even call this wonder) came as a combination of factors all caused by a single surprise. But because of this, if you ask me about that day now two years later and you inquire as to what stands out the most, I’d say it was this odd moment taking a photo of a young woman dressed as a soldier.

I used to think it was rather wimpy of me to fall back on the excuse that I couldn’t explain wonder. Now, I think it is par for the course. If you could explain wonder, it wouldn’t be wonder. If I could tell you why such a seemingly minor incident left such an impression, well, it probably wouldn’t have left such an impression.

I’m learning to be OK with not having explanations for everything we think or feel or experience on a trip or at home. Even small moments of surprise. I am learning to just accept them even if I don’t understand them and be thankful for wonders, both big and small.

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Why we travel

by Steve Brock on November 13, 2012

Here’s a simple way of looking at the not-so-simple topic of why we travel.

What follows is my sketched infographic on the subject. If you want a more articulate version, check out one of my favorite articles on the subject by Pico Iyer.

The “from” and “to” is pretty self-explanatory.

The approach we take to travel, however, is more complex. I’ve found that many times I look to travel for escape. I run from one thing to find another. I tell myself and others I am living in the moment and “seizing the day.” I choose to ignore the desperate tone in which I say this.

In traveling this way, I sometimes find what I seek. Sometimes I find something else. But I never outrun myself. As the saying goes, “No matter where you go, there you are.” My inner life sticks to me like mud in my sole. What I run from is rarely geographically bound.

An alternative approach is what I refer to as “traveling expectantly.” With this approach, I go on a divine scavenger hunt, a quest for the little clues God leaves all over the place if I have but eyes to see. When I travel with the expectation that God will show up, it changes my whole attitude and approach to travel.

I look and listen more carefully. I’m more present. And best of all, all those things I’m running from? I don’t notice them. I’m too busy looking for hidden treasure in the most unlikely of places.

The “from’s” and “to’s” may look the same in terms of the reasons why we travel. But whether or not we achieve what we seek depends greatly on how we travel.

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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 2

by Steve Brock August 1, 2012

Finally making it to Train Wreck outside Whistler, BC revealed more than crashed train cars: we discovered something very unexpected…

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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 1

by Steve Brock July 26, 2012

Another “secret” location in Whistler, BC beckons. But with this one, Train Wreck, we find that the journey to get there is as surprising and interesting as the destination…or so we think at the time.

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 3

by Steve Brock July 17, 2012

Discovering the secret treehouse known as HemLoft was one thing. Finding connections to others who had already done so was quite another. It’s a good reminder that discovery is highly personal but it isn’t always private…

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 2

by Steve Brock July 12, 2012

Secret places woo us and can, in terms of travel, lead to quests with unexpected results as I found out at HemLoft, a secret treehouse near Whistler, BC.

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