Shiny objects

One of the deep joys of this world is the presence of children. I have an especially wonderful career that constantly gives me opportunities to observe children and parents. A week ago I was sitting at a table with a pair of five-year-old twins. I had arrived early for a meeting with the family and the girls were eating heir lunch. Their father invited me to have a seat while I waited for their mother and some others to arrive. The girls were in a talkative mood and were telling me about their lives as they ate. “We have the same birthday, but we are not the same,” one declared. She then proceeded to tell me about things that were the same and things that were different about them. “I have a peanut-butter chocolate bar, but she doesn’t like chocolate, so she has an apple pie bar.” One of my favorite memories of the conversation was the declaration, “Her favorite color is pink. My favorite color is sparkle.”

The conversation made me think of our five-year-old granddaughter. She would b hard pressed to choose between pink and sparkle. She loves both and purple and glitter, too.

We humans aren’t the only creatures that are attracted to shiny objects. When we were kids my cousin was very proud of the baby moon hubcaps on his car. He kept the car clean and the hubcaps shiny. One day while parked in our yard we notices that one was all smeared with something. Upon closer examination we discovered that the mess had been caused by a young rooster in our yard who apparently had seen his reflection, got riled up at the challenge and beat his head against the “rival” in the hubcap until he bloodied himself. In general, chickens don’t have a lot of brain for the size of their body and this rooster probably didn’t improve his intelligence by banging his head against a hubcap.

Another time we were hiking in the high country and watching some mountain goats high on a rocky ledge way above us. My father pulled out a mirror and showed us how the goats were curious about the light he reflected on the rocks nearby.

A few years ago, my sister purchased and installed a game camera to monitor the comings and goings in her yard. She was surprised to capture a few pictures of a bear that wandered by. Then one day he took the memory card from the camera and was surprised to see that it was completely full. She viewed the pictures and except for a couple of normal shots of a car driving by and a deer walking in front of the cabin, the entire rest of the card was filled with close-up pictures of a magpie. The bird had apparently seen the shiny lens on the camera and proceeded to model in front of it until it was filled with pictures of the bird.

Creatures are attracted to shiny objects. We humans are no exception. We like shiny things, too. One of our current fascinations seems to be with objects that have screens like computers and cell phones and smart watches. Scanning the news headlines today I was struck by how many news pictures include people who are looking at their cell phones. We seem to be attracted to shiny objects.

It may be a stretch, but I think that part of our attraction comes from long ago and is a part of the genetic code that is transmitted from generation to generation. I know that i am attracted to the shine of a body of water. Whenever I see a lake, i think about what it would be like to paddle across it. I love to go out in a canoe in the wee hours and watch the sunrise from the surface of the water. The reflections fascinate me. I feel the pull and attraction of water in a deep, visceral way.

Long ago, when humans found themselves in dry places, they had to find sources of water in order to survive. The ability to spot a shiny patch of water in the distance was a skill that was necessary. I wonder if our attraction to shiny objects doesn’t have some roots in the need to find water. Water shines. Look for the shiny. Thirsty critters are attracted to water - to shiny objects.

This is, of course, all speculation. I don’t know how one would design a scientific study of such a general characteristic.

What I do know is that we are growing hungry for community. It has been less than a week since our church board set new restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic and already I am missing the usual round of meetings and face-to-face gatherings. I know that more restrictions and isolation are coming. While we will seek to be responsible and to protect the safety of others, I know that we are, deep within ourselves, social creatures. We’ll use our shiny objects to FaceTime and Skype with each other. We’re learning to use a camera to create livestream opportunities. But it isn’t the same as being together. I sometimes experience the distance between us and our children and grandchildren as can ache. I get so eager to travel to be with them that it becomes more important than other priorities. We are good at staying in touch. We connect with technology on a regular basis, but that isn’t the same as being together. I even use the words “hunger” and “thirst” to describe my feelings of longing to be with family.

So I tell the stories. I make my plans. I figure out safe ways to be with people as much as I can. And I play with the shiny objects. Operating the livestream camera is a steep learning curve for me. I stared a couple of days ago to broadcast short meditations and we are nowhere near the slick productions that people are used to viewing on their screens. But we’re improving. I’m learning.

In the meantime, I’m still a thirsty creature.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!