Not seeing in order to see

by Steve Brock on September 7, 2017

The sign outside read “Public Convenience.” Leave it to the British, I thought, to come up with such a polite euphemism. It’s actually more accurate than our term, “Restrooms.” After all, people don’t actually rest in there, do they? But convenient, especially after a few too many cups of tea? Indeed.

Equally convenient are the wavy glass panes used for the window of this particular public restroom, er, convenience, in Chipping Camden, England. The wavy glass lets the light in, but provides privacy to those, uh, convening, or resting or using the loo or whatever phrase you care to choose. That same wavy glass also provides (or at least it did for me), a lovely object lesson.

Take a look at what I saw from inside the Public Convenience.

It looks like the world we know, but not quite. Everything is familiar, yet distorted. If I hadn’t told you it was a wavy glass window, would you know what this picture was? You might think I’d messed about in Photoshop or otherwise distorted the image.

But encountering this view in real life forced me to look at it again. And again. And that’s the whole point.

We never (or rarely) do that.

We are loathe to take the second look because, let’s face it: why bother? There’s no time. Or no reason. We have plenty of new things to see. Why pause and re-examine what we just looked at?

Because what we just looked at, we didn’t really see.

Quick. Don’t cheat and glance up. But tell me, how many doors are on the house in the photo? How many chimneys? Windows? What color is the bicycle? How many panes are there in the window?

You might be able to recall the building was yellow and that there was a bicyclist in it. Did you recall any of the other details?

You’re in good company. Only when I re-examined the photo did I see any of that. And why did I re-examine this photo? Because it intrigued me. Something about the distortion of reality made me want to see reality better.

Let’s go deeper (cue the woo-woo music).

I think God throws variations like this window at us all the time. God gets our attention with something curious. We then have a choice: Pursue it or ignore it. The pursuit, however, requires us to pause and take notice, to yield to the hint, the glimmer, the still small voice, which then reveals so much more. For example, one of the most delightful things I encountered in the myriad English gardens on this trip were the diverse types of bees humming about. The bumblebees there (24 species, to be exact) don’t look like the ones where I live. So I noticed them.

But I didn’t notice the one right in front of me on the window until I took a closer look at this photo. The bee is likely too small for you to see unless you click on the photo for the enlarged version. It’s near the middle about the same height up from the bottom of the photo as the bicyclist’s back. See it?

I’d never have bothered had this been a normal, clear window. It was only because of the anomaly or novelty of the wavy glass view that I made the effort to look.

I believe every day is filled with such examples. Scenes right before me that God wants me to notice for no other reason than to bring me joy. There’s nothing important about this photo. But every time I look at it now, I see something new. Something more. Something that delights. And all the distortions in it make me want to go take a look at the “real” world with new eyes. In part to appreciate it better. And in part to reconsider what is real and what is distorted and to learn the difference.

Beware of stepping into a Public Convenience. You never know what you’ll see.

 

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Who would know?

by Steve Brock on June 15, 2017

Who would know? Pathway and treesLong before we ever had cable or the Internet (yes kids, there was such a time), a local television station used to run old movies every evening at 8 p.m. One summer evening as a kid of maybe eight or nine, having apparently nothing better to do, I gave this channel a shot. I had never before paid attention to any movie older than I was. But soon I was immersed in an old Bob Hope movie, Son of Paleface, and it was more entertaining than most of the more recent movies I’d seen.

A whole new world opened to me that evening. I realized that these so-called classic movies could be, well, actually good. But another epiphany occurred that evening as well.

In the movie, Bob Hope’s character at several points says or does something funny even though no other actors are in the scene. As a kid, I didn’t make the obvious connection that he was doing that for us, the audience. At the time, what struck me was that you could make a joke or do an amusing antic that no one else would ever see. But it wouldn’t matter. You did it just for you.

Who would know? Tree stumpFlash forward to last weekend when my wife and I were hiking. On a pristine trail with few signs of human intervention other than the pathway itself, we came across an old tree stump with a new tree growing out of it. I had walked right past the tree on our way out. But on the return, I noticed something unusual.

Someone had adhered a set of googly eyes to the trunk. A closer look revealed not just one set, but many. In fact, when I began inspecting the dead tree, I realized that there were these small quarter-inch or smaller white plastic circles with black dots inside them all over the tree.

Who put them there? Why? Did they leave all these eyes at once? Or did they start with just a few and other people added to it over time?

My response to Son of Paleface came flooding back. What if someone had done this just for themselves? Or perhaps a group of friends had added the eyes just as an inside joke among them? Whatever the back story, it raised some intriguing (well, at least to me, which is part of the point here) questions:

  • Who would know? Googly eyesDoes anyone else need to ever see the work (or joke or art or whatever) that you do for it to have meaning?
  • Is there even greater value when you do something anonymously, almost as a gift to others?
  • Can random acts of kindness (or humor or creation) have halo effects and continue long beyond their original intentions?
  • How much do I do because I care what people think about me or my work? What if I did more things that no one ever knew were mine? What would happen? To them? To me?

All this reminded me of my oldest son who is a graphic designer. He periodically goes out and finds some item — a piece of broken pottery, an abandoned display case, an old sign — brings it home and paints it or adds some other media to make it into a work of art. He then returns the enhanced piece to the place he found it. Trash to treasure.

He never knows if anyone ever even sees the work. But it doesn’t matter. Or maybe it does. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t know how people respond to it is the best part of it.

Who would know? Eyes on branch

What if we did more of our work as if we didn’t care what others thought? What if we didn’t worry about the response to our efforts but simply strove to add beauty or humor or interest or hope in even the most unlikely places? What if no one knew we did any of this except for God? And what if we invited God into our secret creations and acts of beauty and good will?

What if?

 

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Finding your True North

by Steve Brock on February 15, 2017

The challenge

I was challenged by something I just read a few days ago in Dan Kieran’s book, The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel.

He quotes these lines from Philip Larkin’s “Home is So Sad:”

“Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back…”

Kieran then asks himself, “In my love of travel, had I begun to view my home as a means to an end, a destination I occupy but don’t really understand?” He continues:

“Wherever you happen to be geographically, travel actually takes place in your brain, so applying the mindset of the traveller to where you live is an interesting way to think about what it means to go on holiday.”

The journey

With that thought, Kieran heads out one day to explore areas around his own home that he has driven by, but never really experienced. The story of his journey inspired me to do the same thing. To get to know the place I call home better in the same way I would if it were some exotic, distant destination.

I drove to a parking lot not far from our home. Then I left behind both the car and my presuppositions about an area so close and yet so far away.

Finding your True North - The Interurban TrailThe trail

The Interurban Trail  runs both north and south of Seattle in two separate segments. I chose this day the southern part, an asphalt path that follows the route of the old Puget Sound Electric Railway trolley that ran here from 1902 to 1928. I’ve biked other sections, but not this one. And today, I walked.

Discoveries old and new

I’d traveled a few miles when I had my first hint that the discovery wasn’t necessarily to be found around me. Sure, there were interesting sights. Low areas now behaving as ponds from the recent snowfall and rain. Playful ducks cavorting in these waters. A shy rabbit darting across the trail when the coast seemed clear.

Industry abuts the trail as do houses, railroad tracks and, eventually, the backside of a shopping mall. All of these were somehow more interesting today than I would have thought. But revelatory? Not really. Surprising. Nope.

An unlikely find

What was unexpected was what I felt as I encountered the sheer normality of these places and sights. I was happy. Content beyond words. Downright joyful. Why?
I could try to rationalize the effect of coming home last week from a long overseas trip. Or the simple pleasure of being outside after a week indoors. Or a host of other factors. But as I walked, I found my answer.

True North Control

Embedded periodically in the trail are these shiny metal disks, markers that, I assume, serve as engineering guides:

True North Control marker

True North Control. This one stumps even Google. I can’t find the actual definition of what these are for. But here’s what they meant to me.

On this day, I had found my True North. I was given not what I thought I wanted — a day to explore and understand better the world around my home. Instead, I received what I needed. Presence. To my settings. To myself. To God.

What do you really want?

Recently, I’ve also been reading James K. A. Smith’s intriguing book, You Are What You Love. In it, he makes the case that it’s not what you know that causes you to live the way you do. It’s what you desire. And the scariest part of that? What we think we desire and what we deep down truly do may not be the same thing.

I left today thinking I needed adventure, albeit of the local kind. I thought I needed to engage my external world. But instead, what deeply satisfied me occurred more internally though I believe it was triggered (as is almost always the case in great travel) by the external surroundings.

What I found along the way was my True North, a mixed up sense of direction, desire and even the Author of all those.

Hidden all around us

God hides in plain sight all around us. Our True North is always available to us. But we forget. We lose sight of what matters. We get confused and we cease to understand what our True North is.

I personally think it’s one of the great tragedies of our age. We pursue what we think we desire without understanding our deeper longings. We travel aimlessly supposing that happiness comes in the journey without realizing that we are made for a direction, a destination.

Remembering what matters

Today I was given the gift of presence. Of peace. Of joy. Of remembering and rediscovering that God gives us what we need even when we think we want something else. And when he does, we find that indeed, that was what we truly longed for but didn’t realize we desired.

So what do you desire, deeply long for? Do you really know? Or do you, like me, need to take the time to just head out on a journey of discovery — perhaps as close as your own backyard — to find that everything you’re pursuing around you isn’t what will satisfy you. Only your True North can both lead you there and meet you there.

But when you find it, you realize that though you may have journeyed far, you have in fact reached your true home.

 

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Forgetting grace – Part 2

by Steve Brock December 13, 2016

After losing my passport in the Madrid airport and then finding it, I still had a long way to go to make my flight. And what happened along the way provides a good reminder that there are worse things to lose than your passport.

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Forgetting grace – Part 1

by Steve Brock November 7, 2016

Losing a passport in one of the world’s busiest airports can be a nightmare. Or something much more…

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Travel, loss and memory

by Steve Brock August 3, 2016

The bittersweet feelings you have on leaving a place on a trip can’t compare to the loss of a loved one. But you can learn from them – and each other – on how to nurture a memory.

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At what point are you ready?

by Steve Brock June 12, 2016

At what point are you ready to leave on a trip? How do you know? Find out the single most important thing you can do to prepare for a trip.

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