Thursday, July 19, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 5: Poo Patrol

One of the chores associated with having a dog is patrolling the yard for poo piles and removing them to somewhere other than underfoot. Spotting a dark lump around that size during today's patrol, I approached with scooper in hand. Unlike the others, though, this lump had eyes, and a head that swiveled toward my motion:

Lesson 1:  If I hadn't been walking around our yard with a scooper in hand, I would not have noticed this little creature. I am reminded that I miss wonderful and significant moments when I'm not paying attention.

Lesson 2:  Though not an expert in ornithology, I am certainly capable of distinguishing between a bird and a poo. I am reminded that my expectations can cause me to see and hear others in distorted ways.

Lesson 3:  It is time to mow the lawn. Most of it, anyway :)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 4: Mountain Sabbath

I realized one recent evening that I'd spent a stunningly high amount of time focused on things right in front of my face and stunningly little time looking at the world beyond arm's length. And so, with that realization, I decided to walk around in the mountains for a few hours.

I hesitate to call my activity "hiking," because true hiking probably doesn't involve chairlifts. But as I settled in and began the uphill ride, my vantage point lifted and I could see for miles. The human hubbub of the base camp activities faded within minutes and I began to breathe deep the mountain air, savoring the sun and the smells.

The lift was largely empty, and the mountain even more so. In fact, I did not encounter a single human being on the trails throughout the day. The hours were filled with trees above and smaller bushes shading the ground. Butterflies fluttered by here and there, ants scurried across the path, and flies engaged me in air battles. Old structures silently suggested the land's history as the intertwining trees asserted their dominance.

As I again neared the base camp, the sounds of nature were mixed gradually with distant laughter and squeals of those enjoying the attractions there. This shift back toward "civilization" was significant, too, drawing me back by reminding me of the people I love.

I'm not sure how it works, but there is something about lifting the eyes in my head to look beyond the immediate physical reality that lifts the eyes of my soul to do the same. I returned home that night with renewed perspective. This, I think, is what Sabbath is about -- setting aside a day each week as a gift from God for rest, restoration, and reorientation -- and I am grateful.

Monday, July 9, 2012

This Isn't Me

In my world, a thought really isn't a full thought until it is written down somewhere. Doesn't have to be legible, nor filed away somewhere, nor even read ever again. It just has to be written down. As a result, I periodically happen upon little nests of scratch paper, as if they have gathered for an impromptu Convention of Random Ideas in some out-of-the-way corner of our house. The notes are almost always brief and entirely without context.

Here's one I stumbled upon recently:

You write your own story as you watch the movie...
What is the spine of your FB story?

This note was scrawled in fall 2011 during a great workshop on media, and the "spine" refers to the thread of the story -- not events or other facts, but rather the message we hear in our hearts. This thought gave words to something I've been wrestling with. Like directors of our own dramas, we naturally filter what is presented and how it appears. By definition, this presents a very incomplete picture, and it always -- if unintentionally -- introduces distortion by omission. This certainly isn't limited to social media, but such means of communication seem particularly affected.

Facebook has been telling me for awhile that my account will soon be "upgraded" to Timeline, which has designated space at the top for a large cover photo. I've thought about what to put there -- perhaps a photo of me and Mark, or a nature picture, or something symbolic. I've also thought about uploading an image there of bold-fonted words that loudly proclaim:

"This isn't really me!"

My Facebook profile is mostly just an assortment of pictures, links, and comics -- the generally-surface-level stuff I'd be adequately comfortable sharing with a crowd of faces, and not just in those deeper, more personal interactions upon which strong friendships are built. Best I can tell, each part of it is true... but taken together, it does not represent the whole, because that which is close to my heart generally shows up only in generalities or similarly veiled forms.

I am reminded of a friendly acquaintance with whom I hadn't had much recent contact, and with whom those contacts were limited almost entirely to interactions around a very frustrating set of circumstances. As a result, all I'd seen in this person for months was anger, anger, anger, and I began to realize that my limited sample had gradually distorted my mental image of this complex and talented individual until the anger was just about the only aspect I could see. It seemed to be mutual, too, as if our former relationship were being replaced by two caricatures considering each other from afar.

And I wonder -- as my Facebook profile does not really reflect me, and that is really all that many of my Facebook friends see, how much do I create a caricature of myself in the minds of others?

I'm not quite ready to quit Facebook; it is currently too thoroughly integrated into our culture of how we share information with each other. Still, I can't help but think that in its mission to "make the world more open and connected," we've allowed it to become a cheap substitute, replacing deeper, more personal interactions.

I know there is something better, and I am going to go explore it.