Imagination steers us to the stars . . . or not


Small story: I was on a trip to Indonesia, and spent the morning hiking on exotic Komodo Island. When I returned to the ship, I noticed a 3-inch-long, perfectly oval rash on the inside of my arm. I looked it up on the Internet, and discovered my problem: A tree spider, indigenous to the islands, had bitten me and laid her eggs under my skin. “Freaked out” does not begin to describe my reaction. I ran down to the ship’s doctor, told him what I had and showed him my arm.

He was French. “Madame,” he said, “you have a common insect bite and you also have an overactive imagination.”

He was quite right on every count; however, I believe that a robust imagination serves us well in this world, most of the time. A failure of imagination can lead to disaster.

Last week we read about an American couple who set out from Mexico on a 35-foot sailboat for a trip to New Zealand. They brought along their two daughters, ages 1 and 3. Two weeks later they were plucked from the raging seas in a complex, multi-agency rescue effort that cost taxpayers a fortune. I’m convinced that if subjected to a brain MRI, these two parents would display a dark, empty hidey hole where human imagination usually resides.

Didn’t they imagine what might go wrong with two toddlers in a small boat out at sea? Couldn’t they look around the corner and foresee the unacceptable risks to their babies? They simply did not imagine possible danger, and so they were nearly fatally unprepared when it hit.

Here in our communities, after Superstorm Sandy, what we heard most often was “the storm surge was unimaginable,” although if it had been imagined, we might have been better prepared.

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