“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” ― Robertson Davies
One of my favorite things to draw is the picture my art teacher taught me in elementary school. You know, the one with the two vertical lines that start wide apart and end close together. You can draw horizontal lines connecting them along the way to make a railroad track or make them a little wavy and color the space the between to make a road. I remember the lesson was on perspective. I don’t know that I fully understood perspective at seven or eight, or even at eighteen, but I knew it meant things look bigger when they are up close and smaller when they are far away. One of my favorite books in middle school was So Big, by Edna Ferber. If I were to read it today, as Davies suggests, I’m guessing my perspective would change my perception, too.
Perspective is not just an art term, it is a life term. Things that were close to me as a girl are so far down that road now. Things that are close to me now were close to some of you years ago. And now, you are able to look at me and say “Give it time. Things will be better as you get a little distance.” I remember an author one time said that we have different bodies throughout life. I think of it like this — a baby body, a toddler body, a child body, a teenager body (usually gawky), a young adult body, an adult body, an older adult body, and a heading out the door body. In each of our bodies, our view or perspective is different than in the next. Perspective, like bodies, can’t really go backward. I will never have a teenager body again (hooray), and I will never think like a teenager again. If I try, though, I can remember what certain events felt like. I remember how it felt to be embarrassed of something I did as that teenager, though when I look back on the ‘something’ now, I see it really wasn’t such a big deal.
To you who are young and reading this I say, “Whatever the event is that has caused you pain, grief, embarrassment, or discomfort today, know that some day you will look at it with different eyes. You can walk away from it and know greater things are to come.”
I can say that because I am almost 50. I’ve lived a lot of embarrassing, painful, uncomfortable moments. I thought I would die from each of them. I am still here.
Perspective is gained as we move away from the subject. When you’re watching a ball game on television, it is frustrating sometimes when the cameraman decides to give you a broader view–true, you can see where all of the players are and what the pitfalls might be, but you lose your close-up of the guy with the ball. Whether watching a sport or facing problems, we tend to want the action close to us, but we only learn when we can step back and see the bigger picture. That’s perspective. We need it to find balance in our lives!
I had a big lesson in perspective a few years ago that has really stayed with me. I was many miles from home helping care for an uncle who was in a nursing facility. Truthfully, I was making sure the facility was taking care of him, but it was a sweet time with him and a lesson for me. The uncle was pretty angry one day because the nurses had ignored his call light for a very long time. Lying in a bed and needing their attention, he turned to me and said “They think we’re just a bunch of old nothings, but we were somebody.” It hit me and has hung with me for all this time. I thought I valued the perspective folks in the older generation had to offer, but I’d never thought about how they gained that perspective. I began asking people who they used to be, and shared with the nurses what I had learned about many. “These folks weren’t always old, needy, and lying in beds, they were doing things in life that meant something, and they deserve to be treated that way. Take time to listen to their stories.” You might be a star football player, an award-winning Realtor, or everyone’s favorite teacher today. In forty, fifty, sixty years, who will you be? Why is it so difficult to appreciate the situations that are right before us? Most likely, it is because we are too close to be able to have a good perspective.
What is your perspective today? Have you forgotten how it felt to be ten and want the most popular toy for your birthday? Are you twenty with the world ahead of you and think that that old man driving too slowly is nothing but a nuisance? Maybe you are eighty and thinking this young generation is completely lost. It isn’t just that we have to allow ourselves time to gain perspective to deal with situations, we must allow others that same privilege; we will really only grow and flourish when we can appreciate someone else’s perspective. Take time to find someone older than you by at least a generation and ask them what matters to them as they look back on their life. Find someone younger than you who is struggling and offer them your perspective–your experiences that you were able to see differently and in a better light once you gained some difference.
The point is this: No matter where you are in life or what profession you are in, there are those older and those younger who see life differently because of their experiences and their perspective. Take time to listen, to share, and to learn. Volunteer somewhere that exposes you to a completely different way of living or thinking. Read great books about life in a different era. Unless you just don’t want to get out of your short-sighted box, the best thing you can do for yourself and others is learn about and appreciate another’s perspective. I think I’ll read So Big again this year, look at the County Courthouse in different lighting, and try to embrace your perspective instead of shaking my head in dismay at your choices.