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During the COVID-19 pandemic, I came to appreciate even more the outdoor education I received at Wyoming Catholic College. Under lockdown, I remembered fondly the freedom of hiking with classmates through the Wind River Mountains; wading through the watery Narrows in Zion National Park; or paddling down the Green River, with the ancient canyon walls on either side rising up to scrape the sky.

These unmediated experiences during college made clear to me what it means to face the real—not through a screen, but through scraped knuckles and blistered feet and cold, star-studded nights. More important, it made clear to me how we encounter what’s real and true through the people we are with—and the God who lives in our midst. In the words of John Paul II: “In the era of technology our life risks becoming always more anonymous and merely a function of the production process. In this way, man becomes incapable of enjoying the beauties of the Creator and to see in them the reflection of the face of God.”

Our detachment from the concrete and our ever-increasing dependence on the virtual has contributed to the rise of ideologies that have poisoned once-respected institutions. First Things is dedicated to pursuing the real and true, undistracted by the noise of social media and the endless news cycles. It strives to keep the conversation going, in person as well as in print. 

As a junior fellow at First Things, I have had the opportunity to meet many of our dedicated readers and hear their stories. The conversation continues in the letters section of the magazine, which I have been fortunate to edit this past year. Now more than ever, it is crucial to nourish a sense of the real—to proclaim the truths that are as ancient and solid as canyons, as terrifying and beautiful as mountains. 

Veronica Clarke is assistant editor at First Things. 

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Photo by Maysam Yabandeh via Pixnio. Image cropped. 

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