Clearly a Californian

Whenever I see collectibles lovingly arranged upon a shelf, I think of earthquakes. Clearly I am either a product of my shaky west coast state, a pessimist, or a realist. Or maybe a little of all three.

We all walk through life with our specifically crafted lenses that shade our worldview. While I read and travel and talk and listen, all this input must pass through my unique strainer, a rather imprisoning phenomenon.

I’ve always wanted the opportunity to see through someone else’s eyes – both literally and figuratively. When I was young, I began to imagine that we all have the same favorite color, but through the filter of our eyes and brain have assigned it a different name. Perhaps what I call blue you call yellow, and what you call red I see as green. Scientists may argue that they can tell what color the eye is seeing, but can they truly tell what color the mind is seeing?

As I look out my window on green palm trees and multicolored dwellings, a cement path and a distant blue ocean, I shift to visualize this in a completely different color palette, one that possibly aligns with my neighbor’s, where the browns in my lexicon become vibrant reds, and greens warm shades of orange. The sky is a glowing yellow and the path to the beach a glossy jet-black.

At first glance, this may look all wrong like a painting from a skewed drug trip. But if this truly does reflect someone else’s vision, how glorious to get to step behind a different filter for a peek.

Many years ago, eight months after the U.S. launched Shock and Awe, I sat opposite my sister-in-law, a devout Catholic, in my hotel restaurant the morning after a Thanksgiving feast at her home. Our talk moved to the war as I shook my head and she proudly supported the president’s actions.

“Don’t you think of all the children, the ones terrified in their homes, the ones who have been killed?” I ask her.

She explains she believes that Saddam is the Devil personified. Literally. I pause, getting a glimpse through eyes so different from my own. As someone outside her religion, I don’t believe in the Devil, not symbolically or literally. Yes, I see evil in the world, but not as a force competing for our souls. But my sister-in-law views a literal battle between good and evil. The Devil must be stopped at all costs.

“If I didn’t believe in the Devil, I could never justify what’s happening in Iraq,” she clarifies.

I had never taken this position into account in all my political dialogues up till that point. She didn’t mention nonexistent WMDs or 911 or a threat to the U.S. She did mention how Saddam was torturing his own people. Yes, I could have attempted to further debate her, but oddly, I was more intrigued by kind of having understood her for the first time.

For a moment, I saw through her eyes.

When I see an impoverished out-of-work soul walking with a bounce in his step, I want a chance to be him for an hour or two. When a perpetually depressed friend grimaces through the most beautiful of experiences, I want to see it as she does simply for a chance to understand.

Maybe if for just a few moments of everyday I can free myself, even a little bit, from my restrictive filters I can stop the urge to convince and sway. Maybe I can move away from worry and find a few more cherished moments of optimism. Maybe I can place a vase high upon a shelf. The possibilities are endless.

1 comment:

Emily said...

I too have wondered if we all see blue as the same blue. I like how you connected this to politics...I try to see other perspectives, but in this political climate, I have often struggled to really understand other points of view.