The feeling of their writing stuck with me as Roger, Dad, Jack and I drove up to Salt Lake to visit the Natural History Museum of Utah this afternoon. What will I see that will make me think? I experience lots of coincidences, but will I experience any that are full of meaning?
As we walked up the front steps, I said to Dad, "I'm usually more interested in the design of the building than the items on display in a museum." I flashed back to other memorable museums I'd visited, including the Musée Rodin in Paris during the summer of 1982. I was entranced by the setting, an 18th century hotel and gardens where Rodin had set up a studio. When my sister and I were in Paris the summer before last, I wanted to revisit the museum. I was sorely disappointed to find all of his major sculptures that had been beautifully displayed in the old hotel instead crammed into a small, ugly modern annex.
No sooner had we bought our tickets today, then we ran into a guide in search of an audience for an architectural tour. We opted out of the full-hour tour, but since he had no other takers, he offered to give us a 10-minute overview of the structure. The museum is designed to echo the natural world it represents. Walls create canyons, suspended walkways are sandstone bridges. Floor to ceiling expanses of windows are carefully situated to frame the views the exhibits explain. It is seismically sound. It is gold-level LEEDS certified. It did not disappoint.
As we moved through the exhibits, I tried to commit myself to a level of awareness inspired by Sue and Ann's writing. Thing is, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and items in museums. Sensory overload. Most of it I'd rather take into my brain by curling up with a book.
So, details. I studied the text panels and as many artifacts as I could handle. I learned about our our fault lines and how this corner of our world evolved over billions of years. I learned about species and ecosystems and archeological digs. I laughed when I saw that every stuffed rodent in a glass case had been carefully shaped into a superhero flying position, front paws stretched forward, legs and tail straight out behind them. I reveled in the neat rows of carefully restored moccasins made out of animal skins. I mused about the photographed diorama backdrop of otherwise pristine wilderness that included a pickup truck parked on a road cut into the side of a mountain. I didn't, however, take advantage of the buttons one could push to catch a whiff of a dinosaur's slaughtered dinner or its fetid forest habitat.
At one point, I realized I was looking at much of it through the lens of the recent Ham/Nye debate about creationism and evolution. With all of this evidence, I wondered, how on earth can someone believe that the world was created in seven literal days or that it (and the humans who inhabit it) have been around less than 7,000 years?
Good, I thought as we left the museum. I was engaged. I was aware. I made connections. But what I hadn't experienced was the kind of striking coincidence full of meaning that seems to be routine for Sue and Ann.
At least not until we were back in the car.
During the drive home, I read from a collection of essays I'd downloaded to my phone. I finished up one, then turned the page to the next one, which was written by Dr. William Bradshaw. He happens to teach--of all things--evolutionary biology at BYU. Then at one point in the essay, he wrote about the time he publicly decried BYU's decision to censor several of Rodin's sculptures, including The Kiss, when they hosted an exhibition of his work in 1997.
Now that should qualify as a striking coincidence. Except I'm not sure what it is meant to reveal to me, what insight I should glean. Then I remembered that it often took Sue and Ann months, even years, to figure out the meaning of the coincidences they experienced.
A selfie with Rodin's The Kiss, Paris, Summer 2012