Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sometimes what people see depends on what they have seen.

Sometimes what people see depends on what they have seen.

One of the vignettes in the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" makes the claim that when Columbus arrived in the New World the natives were literally unable to see his ships because they were so totally outside of the experience of the observors. According to the film one of the native shamans had to learn to see the ships by observing the ripples on the water and once he could see the ships he taught the other natives how to see them. I think that part of the movie was more than a bit fantastic, and even racist to demean the intelligence of the people who were here before the Europeans arrived. If there is any actual documentation to support the film's claim, I'd like to see it.

But there are many circumstances where what we see is conditioned by our past experiences. Last Saturday, near the end of my vacation, I was hijacked by my mother into a side-trip from Murrells Inlet to go see the place in the northern part of Myrtle Beach where the Teakwood used to be.

Where the Teakwood used to be, Myrtle Beach, April 29, 2006We drove past a construction site, where my parents commented to each other about what a sad sight it was. My own inner reaction was different. I saw a new foundation that had gone down, a new building going up, and bare dirt that was waiting for the landscaping that would happen when the construction was done. In short, I saw something that I would love to see in a half-dozen places in Tarentum.

My reaction was different to that of my parents because of the differences in our experiences. I am somewhat of an outsider to the tradition of our family's vacation in Myrtle Beach. The rest of them started going there when I was in college, and my perception of my academic and work responsibilities prevented me from being part of what became an annual tradition. Last year was the second time I had been to Myrtle Beach. I cannot remember how long ago was the first time I went, which was the only time I stayed at the Teakwood. Most of my nieces and nephews have been to Myrtle Beach more times than I have.

For me the Teakwood was primarily a telephone number I would call to stay in touch with family during their vacation. When I called in the evening I never had to deal with an operator telling me that they were ringing the room but no one was answering. What was usually happening was that my parents, other guests, and the owners were playing bridge in the lobby outside the office; the telephone would be brought to their card table.

To this day my siblings can still name families they would meet at or around the Teakwood. It was a place where they had established friendships and forged memories of good times. When they went out to do something fun in Myrtle Beach, the Teakwood was the home to which they returned at the end of the day.

On Saturday I had to teach myself to see what my parents saw on that construction site. I could see some of the ripples in their lives, and I could draw on my own experiences. And when I see the "For Rent" sign in the Corbet Street storefront where Central Perk used to be, I have a host of memories of people I met there, important conversations, friendships that started there. Inns and coffee shops are each more than the sum total of all the financial transactions that take place within. And a piece of land is more than just the best use to which the real estate may be put.

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