I always enjoyed watching documentaries, even those really cheaply made ones for science or social studies that my teachers subjected us to in school. I remember bonding with my father on weekend nights over documentaries borrowed from the library, especially ones about the World Wars and Winston Churchill. From ancient mummies to recent scientific discoveries; from the bottom of Challenger Deep to the edges of the universe; from one edge of Earth to the other; from the monsters of prehistoric life to the world’s current circle of life…the documentaries I devoured, supplemented by side dishes sampled from reading material found in both our home library and the public one, opened my mind and my imagination under my father’s careful tutelage.
Perhaps the fact that the bond I made with my father over documentaries is why they were the only thing that kept me sane in the weeks and months following his death three years ago. There was something inherently comforting about curling up with my laptop and Walking with Dinosaurs or another David Attenborough wildlife special, or watching all matter of man-made probes explore the depths of the oceans and the farthest reaches of space and everything in between. I might have been lying in emotional wreckage, but somehow I was still learning. I might have been feeling very small and alone, but somehow that didn’t stop me from exploring as much as I could from where I was stuck at home.
You’re probably thinking that the last thing anyone would want to do when feeling this way would be watching documentaries that highlight man’s seemingly inconsequential place in the grander scheme of terrestrial nature, let alone in the entire universe. But somehow, being pulled back into the world of documentaries during my grieving period gave me a sense of belonging, a sense of place during a phase of my life that felt like it had neither time or space. Catching so many glimpses of the universe — a montage of all of creation passing before my tired eyes each night — reminded me that there is so much to live for, if only to discover for myself one small part of what appeared on the screen. It reminded me there was so much to move on for, even when it felt like I couldn’t leave the warm cocoon of a past life that included my father’s living presence.
I’m in another phase of documentary-watching now, because I’m in emotional recovery mode again. This time around, I’ve come to the conclusion that whale documentaries are always sad somehow; that cloning a woolly mammoth and giving it a surrogate elephant mother might end up being a fuzzier but equally terrifying version of Jurassic Park; and that I will never be able to decide between which I’d rather do: explore the fathoms below or the cosmos above.
Maybe that last bit is what’s important. I can’t decide, because deep down I know right where I am is where I am meant to be: both feet firmly on the ground, in the middle of the ordinary world where I can grow and learn and come to a better understanding of myself in this infinite tapestry of creation.