Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Matter of Perspective

     More than a decade ago, March 15, 2006, my two daughters and their friend Jessica accompanied me down to Yuma. Arizona. It was their Spring Break, and we left a couple days after their school let out. The night was full dark since we were still north of Yuma’s city lights. Up ahead in the distance we saw an object, an orb of some sort.  We slowed for just a moment to look, and I rolled down my car window. The object that we saw in the night sky didn’t make a sound. It was not a plane nor was in a helicopter. “That, young ladies, is a UFO,” I said to them, a growing trickle of dread slowly moving down my spine. I felt very uneasy as we stared at the unmoving contraption, which was low to the ground, yet high enough that it was obviously not a child’s toy. This was long before drones. We agreed to leave the area and made a quick dash for Yuma.

(Thirty Years Previous)

     “The moon’s upside down!” Uncle Gene insisted. “Whoever sold you that there telescope is a crook. You got taken!”
     “This is a good telescope, one of the best a man can buy,” Papa retorted. “Besides, there is no such thing as upside down in outer space!”
     “What I see standing off my porch,” my uncle gasped in exasperation.  “The way I see it, the moon has a face! With your scope, it’s upside down!”
     It was the 1970s and my family was visiting Uncle Gene and his kids. My dad tried to tell his older brother that in the vastness of space there really is no up or down, but Gene would have no part of that line of thinking. From his perspective, the moon was not smiling. Nobody was smiling by that time. Both men thought of themselves as intellectuals, and they were both right. For all my uncle’s life, the moon had never been upside down! From North Carolina, to Georgia, to Guadalcanal, to Michigan, that beautiful orb of the night had always looked the same. From the perspective of Gene’s porch in Pinkney, Michigan, United States, Earth, Miss Luna continued to look down upon him, despite her moody phases, and when full, she looked down with benevolence at Gene’s family. From outer space (and Papa’s telescope) position didn’t matter. The alignment of the planets, constellations and galaxies that stretched forth for eternity, started with a big bang. Since that great event, up and down only make sense from the standards of things living on earth: the people, animals and even the plants that dig their roots into the soil and reach out to the sky for warmth and rain.

     Big bang. That was the jolt that I first felt June 24, 2011 when the train that I was a passenger on outside of Reno, Nevada was T-boned by a semi-truck. There were other lurches in the moments after the first impact and once the train finally stopped about a mile from the intersection, my family made it off. There was smoke entering our car and eventually it was consumed by a quick-moving blaze. I mentioned that a couple days after the collision and my oldest daughter insisted our train car was not on fire. From her perspective, it was never aflame. Before being ushered into an ambulance, my eldest child was laid out flat, under a blanket, looking skyward. From where I stood, I saw the roaring flames consuming the box on wheels that had carried us west only an hour before. We were both right.

    Many of you have heard of the story of the four blind men that had to describe a large animal, using only their hands. They did not know as yet that it was an elephant. One felt the tail and said “I have a rope”.  Another felt the front legs and said he was standing before trees. The third person felt wind blowing through his hair so he reached high above his head. Touching one of the pachyderm’s ears, he claimed that someone was fanning him. Yet another man holding the animal’s trunk described a large snake! They were all correct, but still didn’t know the whole truth.

     In Sunday School recently, our teacher, Brother MacArthur, told us a story about a scope that he purchased through a hunting store. It was top of the line. He’d saved for it and looked forward to seeing wildlife in detail. He lined it up and. . . there was a smear or a cloud in the way. He carefully cleaned the surface of the lens with the recommended items that were supplied with his new scope. Once again, the occlusion was there. Figuring there was a defect inside of the lens, he took it back to the store. The saleslady agreed there might be a smudge somewhere inside, but they couldn’t replace the scope on site. His guarantee covered replacement and service only if he would send it back to the manufacturer.

     A few days later, Brother MacArthur was contacted by the manufacturer who said his scope was just fine. He asked that the head of the company take a look at it and the man on the phone insisted that the CEO himself had given it a try. In the face of claims that they had sold a defective instrument, they sent out a new scope in the name of good customer relations.

     Brother MacArthur received his new scope and could hardly wait to take it out to the mountains. He unwrapped the brand new contents of his package, wiped it clean, put it up to his eyes and was treated to a view of:  scenery with the same smudge. Normally a patient man, he angrily wrapped up the scope and went home. He’d spent thousands of dollars on worthless metal, glass and jointed parts.

     The following Monday he called the company, insisted on talking to the head-honcho himself and got ahold of the man. He explained his problem and said he’d be sending the worthless instrument back as soon as he could.

     Weeks later, Brother MacArthur was at a routine eye exam and the doctor informed him that he was developing the beginnings of a cataract.  My teacher felt terrible, recalling the words that he volleyed at the manufacturer just a month earlier.

     Brother MacArthur was right; he could see a smudge. It was obscuring his view. The CEO was right, the lens was a good product and he stood proudly by his product.

     March 19, 2006 – We were leaving Yuma. It was late morning and our brief stay was at its end. Driving north as we left the outskirts of the city, we saw it, the UFO! It was a real Unidentified Flying Object, as we still did not know what it was, exactly. Yet, this time, we had no doubt it was earthly. The thing was still in the sky, tethered to a rope and was some kind of huge, lofty advertisement. It was just as real, but not so intimidating and frightening. We continued on our way and laughed at ourselves.

     We all travel different roads and live different lives. Our parents teach us wisdom and we still see things in our own way. Even though we may not have all things in perspective, I hope we may all get along and agree to disagree.

Please, Note:  In the weeks to come I hope to discuss perspective and individual beliefs in a few more posts. Until then, try to see the world from someone else’s eyes for a couple days. You may learn something about them. . . and yourself.

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