“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
I like pictures. They are so much more efficient in communicating so much more information than can words and their limited bandwidth.
Long before the web or even the newspaper (printed on paper, they used to be delivered to your home on a daily basis), everything goes back to a picture. Our ancient ancestors had a choice. “Do I go to the Target in Bedrock and buy an art print or do I go all DIY and paint my own mural?”
Music. As surely as it can evoke emotion, composers from as far back as the 3rd Century BC recognized the difficulties associated with the oral tradition and begun to create pictures that heralded modern-day musical notation…the Chinese did it. The Sumerians did it and so did the Greeks. Sheet music was born.
Whether it’s a football play, office politics or the wiring diagram for your ‘Beauty and the Beast’ nightlight, they all exist as pictures. For me, I know I haven’t really grasped something until it pops into my head as a picture. The moment it does, I’m good-to-go. Yes, there are dimensional limitations to pictures. There is always more to any adventure than just the picture, but with a picture in-hand, I can figure things out along the way.
Thomas Jefferson was nobody’s fool. He had diagrams of the gardens and fields surrounding Monticello. When the French let it be known they were open to sell what later became known as the Louisiana Purchase, it was so like Jefferson to want to know what he was getting in the bargain. So in 1803, he sent a secret message to Congress (ahead of the sale), asking for the funding of trip that sent Lewis and Clark westward. Jefferson wanted first-hand accounts from the intrepid explorers and he wanted pictures.
If only charcoal drawn on animal skins, Lewis and Clark obliged. They drew maps…lots of them. Visual representations of what they had seen and where they had been. Though hardly high tech, they served as the first pictures we have of what is now the Western United States.
And for all the heartache and suffering along the way, those little skin maps of Lewis and Clark quickly became integrated into big maps and the history of the United States was changed forever. Why? Because now, we could picture it.
And if we could picture it, we could go there again…and again. Why? Because knowing the way didn’t depend on the experiences living between the ears of a few trackers. Now we had a picture. Now, we knew the way.
The other day, Rick and I were talking when an odd sort of mental picture snapped into the front of my mind’s eye like a thunder clap.
Neither Rembrandt or Warhol, but there it was in my minds eye…a very large rubber band. On one end, there were all kinds of people pulling towards the Future. On the other, those pulling from the Past. As the band stretched, moving a little this way and little that, Free Will was there actively calling out people in the crowd of bystanders to join one team or the other. And one-by-one, they did.
I could feel the tension in the gargantuan rubber band as it was stretched further and further…and then, it stretching some more. Oh boy…I may not be psychic, but this is going to hurt…”
But then, just as suddenly, one side would relax. The dynamic tension eased and the band regained some of its’ natural dimension.
Free Will kept cheering wildly from the middle of the fray. “You can stand in the middle, you can stand on the right or the left, but once you join the game, you’ll be standing somewhere. And that somewhere? It stands for something. What’ll yours be?”
He was right. Each of us is free to pull to the right or the left or even decide to leave the pulling to others. I get it. I can picture times when I felt like I was being pulled back into some kind of quick sand trap as surely as there have been times when I felt like I was finally pulling ahead. Sound familiar?
It could be anything, lost love, past crime or just a display of cowardice that’s gone unnoticed by anyone other than us (arrrrggghhh, the worst). But what I’m working on is the realization that me, deciding to pull for what’s important to me can make people on the other end of the rubber band feel like they’re the ones being pulled in a direction they don’t want to go. Yikes! All kinds of dicey balances get wrapped up in the dynamic tensions we feel everyday.
What people feel is up to them. How we make them feel? That can be on us if we’re not paying attention. Me, as a Westerner find a lot of the Charlie Hebdo editorial to be rude and in really bad taste. But what the editors might include in the text of a column doesn’t fire off nearly the same reaction as when they say it in a picture. How does a youngster in Yemen who has grown up having people around him die while people who look like him rip Hope out of his Future even have the thought of just how important free speech is? Sure, I do. But I am not him and he is not me. So there we are, looking at the same pictures and having diametrically opposed reactions to them. No wonder the Aliens never linger long during one of their visits. Much safer just to look at us from the safety of their star ships as the make their way through the Safari Park known as Earth. “Honey, let’s get back to Jupiter. These people are crazy.”
I take you now to my morning commuter train ride just before the Christmas holidays. The conductor has just worked his way through the car collecting fares. But just before he goes on to the next car, he turns to us and says something about a passenger wanting to make an announcement. OK. This is a little out of the ordinary and yes, a little groan did run through those of us assembled who rely on the train ride downtown as a time to catch a good nap before work. What gilds the nap for me is our final destination being Union Station. There’s no more track. There’s no danger of missing your stop as you snooze because that’s as far as it goes. (Decidedly not the case when riding out the other way at the end of the day, but that is a story for another time.) So anyway, this middle-aged woman in a sensible coat stands up at the front of the car:
“Hello. I see many of you every day, but I have no idea of your names so let me introduce myself. My name is Doris. So today, I decided to buy several boxes of doughnuts and bring enough for everybody. Merry Christmas, Hanukah or Tuesday morning…whatever is right for you, but I just wanted you to have a doughnut this morning. On me. All I ask is when you pass them on to the next person, you introduce yourself by your first name and wish that person a happy holiday.”
Granted, it was a little awkward at first, but as I watched the boxes of doughnuts begin to make their rounds, people who have sat next to each other for months – if not years – were smiling. Conversation was light and animated. A voice from the upper seats called out, “Hey, don’t forget us”. Everyone chuckles as I watch Doris make sure the upper deck got a crack at the morning treats.
That random drive-by act of random kindness happened weeks ago and in the time since, I have actually remembered some of the names I learned that morning. I use them. “Good morning Cliff.” “Hi Amber” and always a hello for our version of Lewis and Clark…the one and only woman called Doris. “Good Morning Ms. Doris. Good to see you.”
Maybe I’m just that jaded, but I’m really quite surprised to still see ripple effects from Doris’ act of defiance. Little bends in the arc. Did she solve world hunger? No, not really. Did she improve literacy or impact global warming. Nope. Threat of thermonuclear war? Not even close.
So maybe like me, you ask, ‘What’s the big deal? They were doughnuts.’
So now that we’re on a first name basis, the other morning I asked her about her big move on that Tuesday before Christmas. “Why’d you do it? What made you think of doing it at all? How come?”
Well into her sixties, Doris is not one for idle chit-chat and in true form, she simply smiled and said something about having ridden that train for years and never really known any of the regulars by anything other than sight. But what she said next is what grabbed me. “I suppose you could say I just wanted to picture something different”.
I think Dr. King pictured something different when he chose to walk to Selma.
Doris pictured something different the day she bought doughnuts.
I know it’s just me, but this week, I been picturing some very specific ways of jumping into the line and doing my part to pull on that rubber band towards better.
I’ve asked myself this a lot lately. If what I’m doing (or about to say) does not leave someone or something better than they were when I first met, than what is the point of letting others suck me into their sad little soap operas? Their actions tell me that down deep they are given to Fear and any concern for the rubber band that runs through all of us has been burned out of them. Remember the little kid in Yemen? It’s really tragic to see someone settle so cheaply in an effort to prove to themselves they’re alive. But you don’t have to travel to Yemen.
You and I both know people right here who are seemingly and perpetually hellbent on being their own version of an emotional oil spill where ever they go. Toxic terrorism. We can do better People. All of which takes me to the words of Stephen Chbosky, “We accept the love we think we deserve”. I am no better than anyone else when it comes to loving. I have so many flaws. But loving others? That I can do. In fact, the more I do it, the stronger I become and that has a lot of pull when it comes to the day-in-day-out routines of our rubber bands.
“Yes. You sir. You have a question?”
“And how should I love the ones who don’t love me?”
Doing something kind? And if done within reason and without putting yourself in a compromising situation, I will admit to taking pleasure seeing the confusion flit across their faces. They don’t understand it (at first).
So do your own version of rubber-band man. Picture your own definition of what unanticipated kindness looks like, what it can mean and how to do it. Have fun with it.
Or if you’re really going off the deep end, go show some love to someone whom others are not likely to see…ask them their name which oddly enough, can end up being the most powerful picture of all.
Ask them, “Wanna doughnut?”
Muddy Tug of War: http://xtremesport4u.com/extreme-land-sports/extreme-mud-wars/; Cave Painting Critic by Travis Dickerson: http://tdrsmusic.com/cartoons/cave-painting.jpg; Ancient Egyptian music notation: http://50watts.tumblr.com/post/40697930638/continuo-docs-ancient-egyptian-music-notation and History of the Musical Score: http://www.thisisgabes.com/images/docs/musicsymbol.pdf; Map drawn by Lewis and Clark Expedition: This map was originally drawn with a piece of coal on an Indian robe. It depicts the Upper Columbia and Yakima rivers in present-day southeastern Washington State, a region not explored by Lewis and Clark. This image is incorporated in what become Lewis and Clark’s printed map of 1814 (also shown) http://www.edgate.com/lewisandclark/mapping_on_trail.html; http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lewisandclark/resources_timeline_1803.html and http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/images/872m.jpg; Bert and Ernie Talking: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2405202/thumbs/o-BERT-ERNIE-OUTSIDE-IN-THE-FALL-facebook.jpg; Rugby Tug of War: http://www.barton-under-needwood.org.uk/images/Holland%20Tug%20of%20War%20club.jpg; Metra Train coming out of Chicago: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ef/Metra_Train_in_Chicago.jpg; Nick Tenzer – Rubber Band Man by Adam Caira. Caira is a Photojournalist living in Whitefish, Montana specializing in sports and news photography. He graduated from Brooks Institute in Ventura, California in 2011 with a Bachelors of Art in Visual Journalism. http://adamcaira.com/archives/677/_ac11135; MLK: dan4kent ‘Love Letters’ posted August 25th, 2013: https://dan4kent.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/love-letters/; Rubber Band Ball: http://johnlewis.scene7.com/is/image/JohnLewis/232240311?$prod_main$
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