A few weeks ago I made a totally unnecessary purchase of a coffee table book, That Tree: An iPhone Photo Journal Documenting a Year in the Life of a Lonely Bur Oak. On the face of it, taking a daily picture of the same tree with an iPhone seems a bit silly. Yet, I was drawn to the photographer’s struggle of seeing the same thing in a different way for 365 days and recording it with minimal equipment. His work was stunning. I found it fascinating the daily time commitment and patience it required of him to see afresh.
As a very amateur watercolorist and photographer, I am beginning to understand that an artist must first see things from a unique vantage point before ever capturing them on film or paper.
Seeing is more important than equipment or even skills.
Seeing, if cultivated well, can also transcend our race, geographic location, or socioeconomic status. While farm communities such as mine are notorious for being insular, I’ve found the same problem among those in wealthy planned communities as well as those in wretched trailer parks. We all tend to surround ourselves with people pretty much like us. Getting to know and understand folks up or down the ladder, or who are very different, isn’t comfortable.
If we want to help our children fully develop into the empathetic, educated people whose lives can transform the world around them, we have to learn to see better.
We can purpose to seek out friends from different strata of society, not just to serve them, but also to befriend them. My kids grew up as members of an adult Sunday School class that housed the university provost, a low paid worker from the city sanitation department, a factory worker, a couple of farmers, a deliveryman and a university professor. It was a delightful mix-up of lives and viewpoints. The thing we had in common was our faith and our love for each other.
We can get to know folks who have different activities than we pursue. It is very humanizing for a scientist to have friends who are artists and writers. By the same token, when my daughter was the only engineer in the fabled Princeton Humanities Sequence, her practical and logical perspective brought a balance and a reality to the class. Her professors frequently commented that they were glad to have a practical viewpoint. After all, the Roman feats of engineering were just as impressive as their philosophers.
We can ask advice of those wiser folks who are further down the road than we are to help clear up our muddled vision. We can let good literature give us a sharper vantage point by helping us experience vicariously those things we can never be a part of.
To shake things up a bit, I went to Cowboy Church last Thursday night. Held at the rodeo arena on the outskirts of town, I joined those in muddy cowboy boots, large cowboy hats, pressed jeans, and Western shirts. The preacher was an uneducated World Champion bull rider who lived hard for 40 years before he found God. The caring life he leads now (ministering to the drug-addicted, the homeless, the forgotten segments of society) made up for the absence of eloquence. The country hymns, performed with guitars, a banjo, and mandolin, were delightful and what the singers lacked in talent (and it was a pretty big lack), they covered with enthusiasm. As I shook the rough, work worn hands of these salt of the earth people, I saw afresh all over again.
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