Month: January 2011

Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing-Wax

The human person–that fascinating, many-sided being–has a tendency to gather about himself a thousand little interests and habits, some of which, intensified by time and devotion, develop into the peculiar phenomenon called hobbies. In some people, what begins as an attracting avocation becomes a life passion, though often remaining at an amateur level. As G.K. Chesterton says, “A thing worth doing is worth doing badly.”
Yet, the remarkable thing about such hobbies is that they generally deal with something ordinary or common. From collecting stamps, rocks, dolls, buttons or butterflies, to hiking, card games, or scale-model building, all hobbies seem to share the same characteristic of focusing on something otherwise rather prosaic and raising it to a new level by intense interest. Perhaps, indeed, it is the mark of hobbies to be able to see something beautiful and worthwhile in commonplace things.

For instance, one hobby–and I use the term in its most general sense–of mine has always been photography. Indeed, perhaps no pastime better exemplifies this notable trait of hobbies in general than photography does; for in photography, everything–especially common, mundane things–takes on a specific beauty when seen through the right lens, with the right lighting; in other words, with the right perspective. A ditch in the sunlight or a leaf in the mud is beautiful in the eyes of a skillful photographer.

In fact, it seems that this universal feature of hobbies may not just be a facet of these activities; perhaps it is their whole point. A man with a hobby gets away from the mundane routine of his life by focusing on seeing what is beautiful about one particular mundane thing–clocks or cooking or coins. Such an exercise can give not only respite from chores and responsibilities, but also a healthy perspective that ought to be reinforced in one’s whole philosophy. For hobbies–those pleasant, peaceful, pointless pastimes–can enable us, like photography, to see that everything has beauty when seen with the right perspective, as in photography. Thus we can, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “See the miraculous in the common.”