Telling Alien Beings What Earth Was

The first week of my Freshman year at St. John’s Annapolis I was walking along the main street with Dennis Dort and we passed by a store window with some books in it. As a joke I pointed at the books and said “Dennis, what do it say in all them books.” He laughed himself silly. One could imagine an illiterate person assuming that all books say something similar just as someone unfamiliar with museums would see them as all the same; containing “interesting museum stuff.” Dennis was a charismatic personality many times brighter than I could ever be and soon he was the center of a clique which not only excluded me but somewhat despised me. One of Dennis’s best friends was Chris (whose last name escapes me.) One day Chris saw me pass by and said mockingly “Imagine if every human died on the planet except for Bill and aliens came and Bill had to try and explain to them what Earth and human culture was all about.” Aha, Chris LEE, I remembered! I was not terribly offended and did find the idea somewhat amusing. I knew they felt contempt for me and I just sort of accepted that as a fact of life. The odd thing is that as the years passed I came to see what Chris described as the one and only way for me to exercise my understanding; namely, UNLESS I can explain something extemporaneously and completely in my own words then I have not truly learned it. And it is not sufficient if I simply memorize a page and parrot it back. It is necessary that internalize my understanding so that it becomes my own second nature.

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