Wondrous Strange: Confronting Our Ignorance

In his iconic and arguably best play, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Horatio are confronted by the ghost of the recently dead king. Horatio is understandably aghast, crying out, “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!” Hamlet, in a rare moment of clarity and decisiveness, aptly responds, “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.” As is common with the Bard, this tiny exchange contains both memorable phrasing and a fundamental truth about human nature.

Like Horatio, we have all, on occasion, encountered bewildering aspects of our world that have stunned us, simply defying our conceptions. I still remember being a child having moved to America and being told that the letters and numbers I had learned in Spanish would have to be relearned in this wondrous strange thing called “ingles.”

“Why should I have to do that?” young me asked in my perfectly functional Spanish. “I already know them. Learning them again is dumb,” said the future English teacher. I rejected this odd new thing, made no attempt to understand it, and surely frustrated my patient parents. I acted the close-minded Horatio, rejecting my first encounter with what would turn out to be one of my greatest foci.

I acted similarly when first confronted with the wondrous strange idea of gay people. I didn’t know any who were open for a long time, having grown up in a rural, Hispanic town. As a teenager in the early 2000’s, I would hear more and more about gay people in shows, movies, and occasionally on the news. Again, I acted as though this new thing were a specter to fear, and despite having as much knowledge about homosexuality as I did about advanced trigonometry, I ventured to pursue and express some strong views about gay people. I claimed that it was a phase, that they just needed to find the right girl, and that it just wasn’t natural. When my gay cousin came out of the closet, I joined the rest of my family in viciously gossiping about her though she had never been anything but kind to me.

I failed to recognize my own ignorance, allowed myself to be guided by my initial prejudices rather than giving myself a moment of sober consideration. Over a few years, I gradually rid myself of these vile ideas, grew to accept that gay people were simply people, and came to be disgusted with my own past words and actions. I eventually apologized to my cousin, but I knew I could have saved her so much pain if I had only been a little more open minded.

And as I’m sure is relatable to many at Oasis, I vividly remember a strong belief in God. When I was young, I was absolutely certain that He watched over me, was influencing everything from my grades to which girls liked me, and that he was what gave my life purpose. I lashed out at any who dared question these beliefs, and I fought against the unending evidence with all the energy my narrow mind could muster. After I fought as hard against atheism as I could and lost, I then proceeded to turn around and immediately call all religious people dopes for not seeing the truth that was so obvious to me now.

The immediate reflex within myself was to point out closed mindedness in others. It is easy to call out those who have silly spiritual beliefs, villify those who remain anti-gay, mock the anti-vaxxers, decry an older relative’s racism, and fume at the people who STILL don’t believe in climate change. There is a filthy gratification in noticing the shortcomings of others. Searching for them within myself was painful and uncomfortable, especially if it meant I had to change my mind. Better to notice the faults of others and pat myself on the back for how right I am about everything.

I always remind myself I am terribly wrong about something. I must be. And so are you. And so is everyone. Can I realistically say that there isn’t some other belief that I’ll end up regretting in a few years, that someone I’m confidently ignoring might have a truth I’m stubbornly refusing? And try as I might, I’ll always have to tread with that heavy humility of knowing I must be some type of fool. So Hamlet, despite being a murderous, unsympathetic, incestious, spoiled prince, was once again completely right when, faced with a spirit he thought impossible, he said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”