I was a tiny bit disappointed when I first arrived at Chapel Falls, reputedly one of the most beautiful falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It was pretty, no doubt about it, but it was also hard to see the whole thing from the overlook. It didn’t quite have the wow factor I was expecting. I would have been really disappointed if I hiked a couple of miles just to see them. As it was, they were the first stop on a 10-mile hike, so I kept walking.
A few minutes later, the trail got a little more difficult—more like a trail and less like a graded gravel path. I found I was walking upstream and came to a small footbridge crossing the river just above the falls. It was a lovely spot and interesting angle on the falls, just before the water tumbled over the cliff. I was thinking, “okay, this is better.” And across the river I glimpsed another overlook coming up. Things started to click for me. It wasn’t just that first view. That was just one view. When I got to the second overlook, I was able to get a wider perspective on the falls and really enjoy the way the water slides down the sandstone.
As I continued my hike, I reflected on this. My first view wasn’t the whole view. I’d jumped to a conclusion without full knowledge. If I’d have given up I’d have missed the full experience (like I think the family hiking just ahead of me did).
I think learning a new culture is like this, too. If you give up too soon, you don’t get a full perspective. You have to keep learning, keep looking, keep wondering. You have to look at it from various angles to get the full perspective. You can come to China on a 10-day trip and visit the highlights in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai (lots of people do). You get a first (interesting) glimpse of the culture. You don’t get the other angles, knowing the heart of the people, understanding more of why things are they ways they are. Note: this is not to say that you shouldn’t take a short visit to China, just realize you are barely scratching the surface.
I don’t want to just scratch the surface. I don’t want to settle for the first overlook. I want to go deep into Chinese culture. To look at it from different angles. And not just to observe and understand it intellectually, but to be able to speak Chinese, both the verbal language and the many types of non-verbal languages that we use to communicate.
I recently came across the idea of a 150% person. A 150% person is 75% one culture and 75% another culture. I started my life 100% American, and I will never become 100% Chinese. But as I take on some parts of Chinese culture, I will have to shed some parts of American culture. Eventually, as I shed some of my American culture I will add in Chinese culture—able to function in both places (although not fully fitting in either). When I encountered this idea, it helped me to see what going deep into a culture might take. It won’t be easy. It will not always be awesome. There will probably be days I wish I had never written this post or had this desire. I think the reward will be worth the risk, though. The reward will be truly communicating with people in their own heart language about things that are important to us.
I’m going to mess this up lots of times in the next few years, I’m pretty sure. I might not always learn my lessons the first time. The last stop on my Pictured Rocks hike was Mosquito Falls. I’d hiked inland from Lake Superior for a couple miles when I reached a little set of falls. I took some pictures, and enjoyed the peace and quiet of these secluded falls. Once I had my pictures and a break, I packed up my camera. I was ready for the last mile or so of the hike. The falls were pretty, but they hadn’t seemed quite as grand as a photo I’d seen of them. I figured that photographer had climbed down and up a fairly steep hill to get in the river for that perspective. But it was okay—I wasn’t willing to do that, and I was ready to be done hiking.
And yet, as I kept hiking, the sound of water flowing over rocks got louder instead of softer. After some steep climbs and descents, I arrived back at the river. And you can probably guess what I found–more falls. Bigger and more interesting falls. I got my camera back out of my backpack. I was thinking, “you apparently didn’t get the message the first time.” This time, when I was done taking photos and enjoying the area I didn’t dare put my camera away. It turned out to be a good decision, because I came to yet another part of the falls, with (finally) the official National Park Service sign designating them as Mosquito Falls. Again, the first glimpse was not the total glimpse. As I went deeper into the area, I found more interest and got a fuller picture of these beautiful waterfalls. Each time, the best was yet to come.
As I depart for China one week from today, I want to keep these waterfalls in mind. I am considering printing one of these photos to remind me of these things. I want to remember to not stop at the first conclusion. I want to remember that sometimes the best views are off the beaten path. I want to remember to keep going to get the whole perspective because the best is yet to come.