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How and why do certain experiences, encounters and epiphanies change us and our view of the world? More....

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A 3 Part Series: Also see Part II | Part III

Every once in a while, someone or something comes along that changes us and our lives.  If those experiences and encounters resonate with us, they can transform our view of the world and how we choose to live in it.  However, two people can have the exact same experience or encounter; one may be unaffected by it, while the course of another’s life is altered.  Perhaps this is due to an inherited predisposition.  Or maybe it is all about timing. 

Santa Maria painting, Wikimedia Commons
A painting of the Santa Maria by Andries van Eertvelt. It is interesting to note that, despite his fabulous find, Columbus died a disappointed man because what he really sought and valued was fame and riches.

This may seem like a bizarre analogy, but developing an interest or passion may be similar to the way dogs develop fear.  Puppies have a sensitization period between 7-12 weeks old when they may develop fear of something new like a vacuum cleaner, especially if they associate it with an unpleasant experience. Gradual exposure in a gentle and non-frightening way to sights sounds and things can help avoid developing such fears.   Perhaps people have sensitive periods also, when they are more receptive or “ripe” for discovery.  When presented in an accessible way at a certain point in our lives, those experiences have the power to significantly affect us in a positive way.

Some discoveries are made while in pursuit of something that was not part of the original quest.  An example is Christopher Columbus’s serendipitous discovery of America.  By sailing westward, Columbus hoped to find a new route to India.  Instead, his fleet stumbled upon the New World.   

Most discoveries that change us are of a more mundane sort.  In my case, a neighbor gradually introduced me to nature.  When we were about seven years old, he started bringing my sister and me along for pleasant walks in the woods.  We often came across interesting sights like turtles basking on a log in a vernal pool.  We had fun searching for arrowheads in recently tilled farm fields.  This early exposure to nature sparked a lifelong interest on my part, although I can’t say I understand why it had no such effect on my twin sister.

I asked my husband Doug what inspired him to pursue a career in geology.  As a college freshman he had no idea what to study.  On his first day at Eastern, he joined the queue to sign up for classes.   Dazed and confused, he asked the young lady at the table how to figure out which classes to take.  She asked him what he was interested in.  He said he enjoyed the outdoors.  She suggested an earth sciences course.  Fortunately, the teacher was Dr. Sherm Clebnik.  Clebnik brought earth sciences to life for his students by making it interesting and relevant.  And a geologist was born. 

Sometimes a life changing experience is the result of an epiphany.  An epiphany is defined as a “sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple or commonplace occurrence.”   I had one when I moved from Amarillo, Texas to the Quiet Corner.  On a sunny weekend afternoon, I was hanging laundry on the line out by the barn.  The sheets were flapping in a gentle breeze, the sky was a brilliant blue, and the leaves crunching beneath my feet smelled like autumn.  It hit me then that I’d probably never been happier.  After a lifetime of moving, I realized that this was the place where I wanted to settle down and explore.

Next week’s article tells the story of a man whose life was altered forever by a simple gift from his mother.

A 3 Part Series: Also see Part II | Part III
Originally published in the Villager newspapers on January 9, 2008

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