This story is from Perspectives, the first book in the Mind’s Eye Series. My task was to write a story based on the photo below, taken by Martin David Porter.
A Different Perspective
Funny how different things can look when you change your perspective. Five minutes ago, I was standing on the top of this pier. The view was picturesque, with endless miles of ocean glistening in the sunshine. Seagulls danced in the salty air over the gently flowing waves. I could have closed my eyes and stayed comfortably in that moment forever.
Now I’m under the same pier. The water here, absent the sunshine, looks darker, colder, less friendly. The concrete poles are covered with barnacles and there’s a funky smell similar to rotting fish. My view is narrow, like I’m confined to an underworld corridor.
If my journey had begun here, if this was the only view I’d ever had of the ocean, I’d never know the splendor it holds. I’d think of it as gloomy and perhaps a bit frightening. I wouldn’t understand the beauty, would likely argue against it. And I wouldn’t be wrong, not necessarily. My opinion would be based on my experience, my perspective. Because that’s what life is, really, isn’t it? We experience the world from where we stand. If we never move, we’ll never see the other side.
I’ve spent my life exploring perspectives. I’ve seen the over and the under and all the in between. Sometimes it’s difficult to hold onto an opinion when your perspective keeps changing. But it’s better than living stagnant, rooted to a spot that might be showing you one gray corridor of a vast, sparkling ocean. It’s important to examine a thing from all sides before you decide where you want to stand.
My friends tell me I’m often too philosophical about life. That’s probably true, though I’m old and have earned the right to wax poetic now and then.
Let’s play a game. How do you picture me, in your mind, at this very moment? Am I tall or short? Am I white, black, Asian? Have you decided whether I am male or female? What if I were to tell you I am all those things?
Preposterous, you say. I disagree.
If you relate to my words and you are a middle-class white man, you might well be picturing me the same way at this very moment. If you find me an annoying intellectual, I will be the stereotypical image of such, whatever that might be in your mind. You see, we like to fit things into neat little boxes. If we share values, if I am like you, I should also look like you. I should live in the same kind of neighborhood and vote for the same political party. But if you find my position unappealing or insulting, you’ll envision me as quite different from you. I won’t look the same, not in your mind, and I won’t live the same lifestyle.
This is how life works, isn’t it? Assumptions replace fact. We only see the world from the position we’ve taken. We experience a mere fraction of the possibilities out there. Our reality is colored with the crayons we have in front of us. If blue is missing from our box, we will never see the sky for what it truly is.
I once voluntarily spent a month living in a dingy two-room apartment in a squalid building in the midst of a ghetto. What I saw when I first set foot in the place was this: dirt, grime, drug addicts, prostitutes, uneducated youth, gang violence, hopelessness. Every noise made me jump. I was anxious, distrustful. I felt I had no common ground with any of the people who’d become my neighbors.
One month later, I had a new perspective. The young mother across the hall shared my love for Ernest Hemingway. She took her four-year-old son to the library every Saturday for story-time, and they’d each come home with an armload of borrowed books. She wanted to be a nurse, but the father of her child had walked out when she became pregnant. Her parents were poor and couldn’t help her. So she worked 50-hour weeks for minimum wage and did the best she could to raise her son to be a better man than his father.
The teenage boy in the apartment below me had been arrested twice for drug possession and once for breaking and entering. He was fifteen and had stopped going to school, though no one noticed. His mother was a drug addict and his father was a gang-banger. The kid painted what he saw; the deteriorating buildings and the drunks huddled in the doorways. His paintings broke my heart with their tragic beauty. In other circumstances, with the right connections, his paintings would be hanging in a gallery. But no one in his world cared about art, and so he hid them away in his room, along with all his hope.
That month gave me a different perspective of life, of people. They were poor, yes. But they were not without hope. Success or failure often hinges on the circumstances of our birth. That roulette wheel determines whether our spoon is silver or tarnished. It’s not “us and them.” No. We are all us; we are all them.
I’m tired now, and no doubt you are tired of my ramblings. I’ve one thing left to share with you before I go. I’m dying. Does this surprise you? Would it surprise you more to learn that my death comes at the hands of another? Interesting that I spent so much of my life exploring views from dangerous vantage points, yet I am murdered on a sparkling day at the beach.
The water around me is now tinged red with my blood. The scarlet crayon, perhaps? My head has grown heavy and I won’t be able to hold myself above water much longer. When we played our game, did you envision me this way? I wonder if this information changes anything.
This view beneath the pier is the last image I will ever see. But I’ve seen the view from above, and it’s spectacular.
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