I went home suitably awestruck.A few days later I was alone in the back yard of our house when a plane flew over. I recognised it as the same DC 3 that I had so recently stood underneath, only now it was very, very small. In a flash of insight I realised it was small because it was a long way away, and the thought entered my little head that for it to be that tiny it must be a very long way away indeed. And I thought about someone sitting in the plane and looking out of the window, back down at me and how tiny I must appear to them. I had a mental picture of what I and my house must look like and in an instant I knew three things: 1. I was very small. 2. The world is very big and, 3. I was not the centre of it. It was an epiphany. All these years later I can still feel the dizzying vertigo as, instantly, I shrank and the world grew around me. For the first time, but not the last I was bowled over by knowledge. My world crumbled and reformed and even at that age I knew I had stumbled into some truth that was enormous and important.
I went inside to where my mother was working in the kitchen and tried to explain to her what I had seen, and I learned something else: 4. If you try to explain it to people they usually just don't get it.
An epiphany is a realisation. That is, it is about making real. It might involve the acquisition of new knowledge but it is more likely to be making connections between scraps of knowledge already acquired: I knew before that morning that things got smaller when they moved far away, and that the world was big and that I was small, but in viewing the flying plane these abstractions had suddenly become real; they had become an established part of the universe I inhabited and I learned then, probably 40 years before I could properly articulate it, that epiphanies require a kind of death. The old world I inhabited, whatever it was, had been manufactured by my 3 year old brain, and it was deficient. For me to grow the old world had to go so a newer bigger one could replace it.
So tomorrow we remember a bunch of Zoroastrian magicians consulting their astrological charts and deciding that a new star was the harbinger of a long prophesied king in a far off land. They made the journey to check out their hypothesis and their world was blown apart, as was ours, by their findings. Epiphany.
So for me. Since that day in the back yard of a little state house in Dunedin, the world has, time and time and time again, opened itself to me, leading me into that exquisite death and rising again, by which it has drawn me to itself; and to the great and complex and elegant mind of which it is both manifestation and sign.