Pictures and Perspective

My hope wavers, I’ll admit.  Most days I’m optimistic, but worry, fear, or regret compete daily to tempt me toward a glass half empty.  Like last night, after returning home from taking my nieces trick or treating for the first time.  Carrying her between houses, I’d whispered in Kat’s ear, “There’s no place I’d rather be.”  Then my sister-in-law posted her Facebook album from the night… and I wasn’t in it.

In the past, I’d earned a mention at least.  I haven’t missed a significant event in the lives of my nieces or nephew since I moved here over two years ago.  Like my auntie Cherry did when she embroidered the ring bearer pillow for my wedding, I prayed over those twins as I crocheted their baby afghans, pink for Kat and purple for Tessa.  Despite my struggle with God at the time, I couldn’t help but pray, eyes open, as I wove my hopes and dreams for their futures in with the yarn.

And that’s what “eyes open” literally means.  We rarely speak literally these days (and even more rarely use that adverb correctly).  When a text from my gym mentor Chuck pops up over my phone GPS on drives between Alexandria and Hampton, there’s always some word and/or emoticon combination reminding me to keep my eyes open.  I can still blink or yawn because it’s a metaphor.  I’m seeing them everywhere these days as I prepare a new English unit.

Eyes open figuratively means that I need to be alert and aware of my surroundings at all times, a reasonable reminder from a retired chief of police.  On the road, I assess the ebb and flow of traffic, the dodging and weaving of cars.  The metaphor untangles naturally on the road, but what does it mean to keep my eyes open when I’m inside?  I’m aware of my current paradigm, and I’m alert to dangers that threaten that optimism I fight so hard to maintain.

So, I recognize that the absence of me in my brother’s family’s Halloween post hurts, despite what I’m certain was an unintended injury no doubt mitigated by a mother’s sheer exhaustion after a long night of excitement.  Eyes open, I see the reality.  In truth, my sister-in-law posted her family: her, my brother, and their kids.  As close as I feel to those three children, and as much as it shocks me how deeply  I can love tiny human beings that aren’t mine biologically, I’m not actually a part of their family.

And I think that’s where I’ve had my eyes closed for quite some time.  I could distract myself from the punctuated longing of having children of my own by holding to this idea that I was co-mothering.  The truth is, you can’t share children.  I awoke this morning, and in the instant I became fully cognizant, I began to cry.  I felt the imagined injury again, and faced the reality that I cannot use my brother’s family as a surrogate for the kids I can’t see yet in my own future.

“Never backward, always forward,” is a motto Pop preaches to Luke Cage in a new Netflix series Charming and I are watching.  It’s another metaphor.  That doesn’t mean Luke can’t double back when he’s chasing the bad guys, but figuratively Pop’s telling him to use his abilities to better his city.  Luke’s cagey past shouldn’t keep him from making a positive impact as a potential hero.

We watched a couple of episodes together at Charming’s place on Saturday.  We’d had an early, eventful day, starting with a pro bono training we attended in DC.  The workshop was on “Sharing and Caring”, and two uniquely gifted speakers engaged us mentally for several hours.  The first, Seth Doherty, told us how he had served time in prison as a teen.  His message was in his story that led him to this moment.   Never backward, always forward.  His past didn’t stop him from finding a way to make a positive impact through his career as a lawyer and his involvement in Kairos Prison Ministry.   What might I accomplish were my sight centered on something other than my empty house?

We spent another hour on The Mall recovering from the heavy content of the morning, playing Pokémon Go and putting a kitty creature into the virtual Washington Monument gym.  As we walked away from the monument, we saw an opportunity for a photo in front it.  We tried a selfie, then a couple offered to snap one for us.  It wasn’t until we returned the favor that I saw it.

The sun had just passed its peak: a striking white, glowing ball against a crisp blue, encompassing sky, pierced by this great stone structure with the sun anointing it like a halo.  Add another metaphor to make it a trio.  My eyes were open, I was moving forward, but now, I was looking up.

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Literally, I was looking up at the Washington Monument, a 555 foot marble tower on the National Mall with a phone in one hand and Charming’s in the other.  If I were to tell someone to look up, I’d be encouraging them that things are going to get better.  It’s an assurance of improvement, a confirmation that the glass is half full.  Literally or figuratively, I wasn’t looking up when I saw my sister-in-law’s Halloween post.

And when I told Chuck about it at the gym today, I knew I was going to have to find an effective way to write about this.  He told me to pray about it, to sit with the Word, and I did; before I wrote a word of my own, I opened my Bible to Psalms 121: “I lift my eyes up to the hills.  From where does my help come?   My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The Washington Monument in all its grandeur, even adorned in a heavenly halo on an October afternoon, is still a creation of man.  How much greater, then, is the One who created man and the marble and the intelligence to think to make anything at all, much less the wealth of inventions we enjoy in the twenty-first century?  Omnipotent.  Omniscient.  Omnipresent.  What better source of help than the original Source?

When Chuck told me to turn to the scripture, he might have well as said, “Look up, Laura Joy.”  This didn’t have the same figuratively meaning as a padded, “It will get better.”  Wading in an abundance of metaphors, I identify the problem is my acute awareness of past, present, and future; I need to look up.  To move forward and have a positive impact on society, I need to get past the nagging worry, fear, or regret that tugs at my inner peace.  The full wonder and awe of the Washington Monument in early afternoon wasn’t appreciated when we were posing in front of it.  Only when we stepped back and looked up did we see the authentic, postcard-worthy beauty of a moment only the maker of heaven and earth could have composed.

When I sat with the scripture tonight, I looked up, and my Help came.  With a renewed mind, I considered the night past and noticed that the difference in the pictures this Halloween is not my absence, but my brother’s presence.  Having transitioned fully to a rewarding professorship where he teaches on campus and at home, he has free time and love to devote to his wife and kids.  This year, he was holding his girls on the hayride at the local church Trunk or Treat instead of me.

And I was snapping the picture: the one that Gabrielle posted on Facebook of her family.  My eyes were open.  I captured their moment, and in that moment, I was moving forward.  I was offering another set of hands and a little extra love to make their world a better place.  It’s not Luke Cage taking out an ambitious mobster, but if I have a way with children, why would I wait to use that until I had ones of my own?

You’ve heard them.  Said them.  Countless metaphors and idioms direct our sight, each with a disparate meaning: look out, look forward, don’t look back, see the bigger picture, eyes open.

Now look up, over all the metaphors and men and marble monuments.

I find my help when I look up and God shares His perspective from Heaven above.  Through His eyes, every photograph and moment captured therein looks different… more glass half full, if you’ll forgive me one more metaphor.

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