Said the night wind to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb, do you see what I see? A star …”
If you know the song, are you like me, left wondering if the little lamb actually does see the star? I’m thinking he doesn’t, because he goes on to ask the shepherd boy about what he hears rather than what he sees.
On a recent hike along a ridge, I tried to point out something across the ravine to Laura (my near-sighted wife). I stood behind her, positioned her head, and pointed my finger to give her a sight-line that Helen Keller could follow. She still couldn’t see what I wanted to share with her.
How can she NOT see that?!
And the soft winds began to blow across the embers of frustration …
Every time I walk into my youngest son’s bedroom, my head nearly explodes. Every. Single. Time. (For the Hollywood directors following this blog—when you need footage from a post-apocalyptic landfill, I invite you to check out Danny’s room.) It irritates Laura, too, but she’s tenderly responsive to my soft-boiling rage: “Honey, Danny just doesn’t see the mess.”
What? Doesn’t see it?!
Nice try, babe, but I’m not buying that crap. Danny’s room is a mess simply because he doesn’t care. And I have no tolerance for a soul deadened with indifference. As a good friend often reminds me, the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. At least a hate-filled soul has some passion in it.
Danny’s room is a playground for squirrels and rats simply because he doesn’t care. And I’m outraged because I see the mess and he chooses to ignore it.
But what if Laura’s right? What if there’s even a slight chance that Danny really doesn’t see what I see? Likewise, what if she will never recognize what it is I’m pointing out in the distance?
And there it is, friends: the source of my angst. I want—I NEED—others to see exactly what I see; but I’m learning that more often than not, they simply can’t. I’m beginning to realize that perceptual differences of the world we think we share often provide the spark for most of my blowups, my stress, and my turmoil (both inward and outward).
During my travels over these past several months, I’ve spent a lot of time spinning the radio dial, constantly searching for soundtracks to accompany the life-movie playing in my truck’s windshield. One day I stumbled upon an interview with San Diego artist Concetta Antico (I wish I could remember the station and program—maybe something on NPR?). Antico’s paintings are noteworthy for their almost-otherworldly portrayal of things we see every day. Her interesting use of color makes a simple image of a tree pop off the canvas as if being viewed through a kaleidoscope. However, what we’re now learning is that Antico isn’t delivering a psychedelic, imaginative trip through her artwork. She’s simply painting what she sees. (This is worth a listen: The Artist Who Can See 100 Million Colours — BBC Outlook)
Concetta Antico carries a genetic mutation that allows her to see what most of us simply can’t. If you show me an apple and ask me to describe its color, I’ll tell you it’s red. Show Antico that same apple, and she’ll describe a whole range of distinct shades and tones, hues that my brain can’t interpret because (based on my “normal” vision) those color variations don’t exist.
We may be looking at the same thing, but we’re experiencing different realities, as if living in different worlds.
Not long ago, Antico hinted at this potential disconnect with others when viewing something as simple as rocks along the roadside.
“The little stones jump out at me with oranges, yellows, greens, blues and pinks,” she says. “I’m kind of shocked when I realize what other people aren’t seeing.” (BBC Future)
Just as I’m kind of shocked when Danny doesn’t see the clothes and trash all over his floor. But I digress…
Research is showing that Antico’s condition (she’s a tetrachromat, her eyes having four cones instead of the “normal” three) allows her to perceive and interpret a reality that most of us simply miss out on; furthermore, this genetic mutation is more common than once thought (especially among women). Some people are walking around as tetrachromats, but for various reasons, their ability to see more than the rest of us goes unused and undeveloped.
I’m suddenly reminded of a colorblind friend. As a young boy, Andy was always in trouble because of his wardrobe. Growing up, he had two pair of dress pants. They were the same brand, style, and size, but different colors: a green pair and a brown pair. On Sunday mornings, Andy would be sent up to his room to put on a certain color of pants. As you’ve probably guessed, he got it right less than 50% of the time. More often than not, he’d come down wearing the wrong pants and spend the rest of the morning in trouble for not doing what he was told.
“How did they figure out you were colorblind, Andy?” I once asked.
“I guess when I kept putting on those $&#@ green pants!”
Poor kid. He really couldn’t see the difference.
One of my favorite Dire Straits’ songs laments: “There are many different worlds, so many different suns. We have just one world, but we live in different ones.” The world we know, how we define our reality, the very lives we lead come to us through our perceptions. However—Are you ready for this?—WE DON’T ALL SEE THE SAME THINGS.
Have you ever considered how much anxiety, frustration, and disconnect has come into your world because of that simple truth? You and I might look at the same thing and perceive something that the other is biologically incapable of recognizing. Your componentry might be hard-wired with a super hi-def 3D Sony flat screen; meanwhile, I’m struggling to see through the snowy image of my 1976 black-and-white Zenith tube (complete with rabbit ears and a span of Mom’s tinfoil—I’m sorry for the youngsters who can’t appreciate that reference). But here’s the question: If we look at the same thing, yet you observe something that my brain tells me isn’t even there, well … see where I’m going with this? Doesn’t one of us have to be … wrong?
Or can we give each other some space and grace in appreciation of our vastly different realities?
I desperately wish I could see what you see; then I might better understand your heart. But my wiring may never allow me to do that.
Over the next several blog entries, I invite you to explore with me what this means for us on many different levels. How might this consideration—that we are hard-wired to experience the world differently—affect your relationships, your inner peace, and even the very world you think you know?
As this series develops, I invite your comments and personal stories. Please, join the conversation. Until then, I’ll leave you pondering a simple question: Do you see what I see?
Be well, friends.
For now, I’m off to rake up all the things in Danny’s floor that Laura says he can’t see. And I’ll try to harness the energy of my inevitable frustration and use it for good.
Pray that I see my way through this task.