Monday, April 17, 2006


Perspective. An attribute often heralded amongst intellectuals who claim that a certain individual has the ability to see the “forest above the trees,” so to speak. Perspective. It is often something that Davidson students lack around this time of year, as finals, papers and summer plans breathe down their necks. We often judge toughness, intelligence, and ingenuity as more important than perspective merely because we assume that it is beyond our control. We assume that perspective is inherent in those who travel to third-world countries and who really understand what hardship is like. Perspective emanates from those who are well-read and well-traveled. Perspective flows from those who lose a loved one. Perspective cannot be achieved by ourselves in our current circumstances. We think that external properties force perspective upon us.
Over this Easter break, I have been reading Tuesdays with Morrie, a book by Mitch Albom about the death of an old sociology processor and perspective on life as he was eaten alive by Lou Gehrig’s disease. Reading many anecdotes filled with prophetic aphorisms about the need to love and stop worrying about work, I began to find myself jaded. I looked at my worldview and thought that I know that money is bad and people are good, but that somehow getting through tomorrow seemed altogether different. Life seemed to be about the next step in front of you and not worrying about everything else.
I was thinking this until I came upon another little moralistic truth of Morrie. He asks the author, Mitch, to look out the window. He describes the way that he notices nature because of its changing, and he therefore notices his life. Knowing that he only has months to live, the essence of life is constantly before Morrie, unlike those people around him who don’t have time to think about death. Morrie described how he’d traced the angle at which the sun always shines on this tree and the relative activity that the animals have been doing in preparation for the winter. He says that he has a fixed perspective from which to view the progression of life.
So often, we are able to go through months and years without a fixed perspective, as high school and college become things of the past and our work and families are always changing. This weekend, I returned to the house at the beach that I have been coming to for 20 years. In two decades, the degree of decay and rot on the old wood lookout become apparent. I notice how outdated many pictures seem that have occupied the same place for years. This house serves as a fixed reminder of what has come before, and what will come in the future. I realize that I have changed and will never return to what I was. The old bed now seems small to me. The once-beautiful painting is now faded. And yet the tide keeps coming in. I still feel the cold shock of the water on my feet that reacts with the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. I look north and south and realize that whatever I do to make a living will never compare to my identity at this place.
Unfortunately, it feels like perspective is still being forced upon me from the external. What if I hadn’t picked up Albom’s book? What if I didn’t come to this house? What if I were always sad? Perhaps, we will never be able to engender perspective completely independently. But then, that would deprive us of our purpose of living in a community of people. Let us not forget our affect on others in our rush to save our own lives in cash. Surely we can appreciate everything that everyone else has done for us.

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