Looking 'Along' and Looking 'At'

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, ninety-odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

But this is only a very simple example of the difference between looking at and looking along. A young man meets a girl. The whole world looks different when he sees her. Her voice reminds him of something he has been trying to remember all his life, and ten minutes' casual chat with her is more precious than all the favours that all other women in the world could grant. He is, as they say, 'in love'. Now comes a scientist and describes this young man's experience from the outside. For him it is all an affair of the young man's genes and a recognized biological stimulus. That is the difference between looking along the sexual impulse and looking at it.

C.S. Lewis, "Meditation in a Toolshed"
1st published in The Coventry Evening Telgraph (17 July 1945)
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1 comment:

LAInkling said...

Ah. I haven't been here in a long while. And yet I was tonight overcome by an overwhelming desire to read something by an Inkling. I immediately thought of this website. Is it still there? I asked myself. I clicked on the link and sure enough, like an old but long-neglected friend, it was there. Thank you, my old friend. Long may you post.