I remember an art teacher trying to explain the concept of perspective in drawing class. Intellectually, I got the concept, but when I put pencil to paper, I could never quite make it come out right. Those long railroad tracks disappearing into oblivion always curved in a strange way that would have derailed a train had one ever ventured down them.
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective. In art, perspective allows us to see objects in three dimensions, although they are on a two-dimensional surface, in a way that looks realistic. In life, perspective is also about seeing things realistically. It can only be achieved when we allow the plane of our own understanding to intersect with that of another (or others), thereby bringing depth and dimension to our vision of the world. And richness to our experience.
When I was a kid, I often faulted my mother for things. On Crazy Hats Day at girl scout day camp, my mother produced two crazy hats she had made – one for me, one for my sister. I thought my sister’s was cute and mine was embarrassingly ugly. It occurred to me too late that it might hurt my mother’s feelings if I told her so. I had been thinking about it in only one dimension – never considering that my mother might view it differently. I was a kid, though – and kids aren’t supposed to understand perspective. You’re supposed to gain perspective as you learn things like empathy, or the adage, “Walk a mile in my shoes.”
As an adult, it can be surprisingly easy to lose perspective though you’re not supposed to. To revert back to the kind of thinking that only considers me: my experiences, my feelings, my hurts. It is frighteningly easy to devolve into “poor me-ism”. This past weekend, I was so there. It was my on-call weekend, and things refused to go right. Saturday night/early Sunday morning, I was called to go to campus and untangle a series of events which took the entire night to sort through, and which included deeply emotional students and concerned parents, and a complex series of life events and issues. I returned home around 7 a.m., exhausted after a completely sleepless night. It was easy to say poor me. Nothing ever goes right for me. Yadda yadda yadda. Blech.
And then something really sad happened.
I learned of the death Sunday of a former student, one who graduated just a couple of years ago. I remember meeting Hannah, her freshman year. She was positive, bright and upbeat. She wanted to be a nurse, because she had a chronic illness and was so grateful for the amazing nurses who had cared for her throughout her life. But shortly after her arrival on campus, her condition worsened and she needed to leave school. Eventually, she became a candidate for an organ transplant, and returned to school after her surgery. It wasn’t long before another medical setback for Hannah: an opportunistic cancer, a result of the immunosuppressants she was required to take. She fought the cancer, and returned to school again. For the remainder of her college career, she participated in campus activities, majored in social work, and shared her story with many.
Hannah was an extraordinary person masquerading as an ordinary college student. The notice of her death in the newspaper says, “Hannah’s life embodied her middle name, Joy, with a smile and spirit that would brighten up the room. She was sincere and caring toward all people. Her courage and drive were an inspiration to all she met. Her strong faith and love for the Lord Jesus Christ supported her through all her medical problems. Hannah will be deeply missed by her family and many friends.” All of it true.
Which brings me back to perspective. So many students I work with are reckless with the lives they take for granted. Or worse, purposely try to end them. Yet Hannah fought for hers every single day – and not just to keep it, but to fill it. Many of us waste the gift of time sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, while others find their time to be precious and short.
Today, I will begin the day with a workout class at my gym, then head to work and a schedule jam-packed with meetings. At the same time, Hannah’s family and close friends will gather to share their joy in her life and their grief at her passing, Her life intersected with and impacted so many, offering depth and dimension. Perspective. It is what allows us to live life in 3D, rather than in the one monotonous dimension of self-centeredness. Today will be a good day to remember that.