In the film Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams talks to Matt Damon on a park bench in a scene about halfway through the movie. Within the conversation, Williams gives a long speech regarding wisdom versus knowledge:
“So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that…"
Years ago, when I was still in high school, I walked out of the movie theater and was left with one important question… one question that has haunted me ever since…
“What does the Sistine Chapel smell like?”
What's it like to stand under that beautiful ceiling… and suck in all the air around you? What's it like to draw in the fragrance of Michelangelo’s extraordinary creation?
Well, I finally did it. I waltzed into the Sistine Chapel and sucked in the air like a Vatican vacuum. And I can finally tell you what it smells like...
It smells like body odor...
Yes. It smells like throngs of tourists who have not showered in days. It smells like the wisdom of hundreds of people who would rather not be bothered to put on deodorant as a courtesy to rest of humanity.
On a positive note, the Sistine Chapel probably smells like the people that created it over 500 years ago. Thus, as I stood there in the sacred chapel I thought, “Maybe this is an accurate historical experience, kind of like those medieval fairs where nerds dress up as knights and teenage girls as wenches?"
Oh wait, no it’s not… it just smells like an armpit.
So, Mr. Williams, I have had the privilege and honor of standing under that ceiling. I have stood there in the low light of that sacred place and looked at the Book of Genesis painted across the ceiling high above. I have gazed upon the Godly creation of mankind, that in itself is a divine creation by mankind.
And I can say that it is beautiful.
The difference between seeing it on paper and seeing it in person is that you feel it in your chest. You feel lucky to stand there and see it with your own eyes. You feel an indescribable emotion that can’t be explained by any text or photo. You see something that intellectualism can never ever properly transpose: life itself.
Now some might call that moment a divine experience. I would rather classify it as being touched by history in a place that smells like a bus stop bench.
In other words… it’s living the wonders of life instead of just reading about them. It’s experiencing the world subjectively, the utmost human experience in itself.
And there’s nothing that can replace that.