By Ann Fontaine
Walking to practice baseball early in the day to avoid the soon to be 95 degree day, our grandson and I cross the bridge over the Popo Agie and into the City Park. It is only a short walk from our house down the pathway, across the river and to the ball field but each step is filled with wonders as only a 9 year old can find.
Here is a shiny split ring washer that must be pocketed for addition to the treasure box, there is an old nail from a long past fencing project. As we walk, with a grandpa-purchased regulation equipment bag, carried by grandma, we examine cracks in the sidewalk. Small green shoots are relentlessly breaking up whatever pavement humans try to keep in place. Life cannot be stopped by a layer of cement or asphalt. It finds the smallest opening and sends up a leaf of weed, a blade of grass.
There is something about spending days with children that slows one down and opens the eyes. Many have remarked on the wonder of seeing things only noticed by the under 10 set or those who see the world through the openness of a child or an artist.
Last week a group of adults were examining two photos. We examined the first one without seeing the second one.
The question was asked – What do you see? What is it like in the world of this photo? The small bits of shell embedded in the stone or is it concrete? The green bits in the open spaces, the leaves on the surface. As I look at the lines between the blocks – what could be negative or separating in this world? What disturbs you? It is such a close up shot – does it make you want to see more? Or are you content to examine what is put before you? As we looked at the photograph and reflected on it we drew parallels to how we see things in our lives. One person said – oh I am used to seeing partially as I am very short and usually cannot see over or around the people nearby. Others felt constrained by being so close to the subject that they could not tell what is was. We realized that because it was a close up and we were all looking at it on a computer screen where we had to scroll to see the parts – we did not even know if everyone was looking at the same part of the whole. The points of view were so different even though we were looking at the same photo and we are a fairly compatible group on most issues.
The differences in our perceptions were all due to our life experiences not due to the object in our vision. It was a simple lesson in the truth that without listening to and sharing with one another we never know how the other perceives our words, our actions, even concrete objects. It is a wonder we can understand each other at all in the simplest of exchanges and how much less we can know about abstract concepts in our minds and hearts.
When we saw the next photo that was the full picture on our screens – we were surprised by what it showed.
Backing off from the close-up it was clearly a piece of sidewalk made of blocks of concrete. The little shells and stones were part of the aggregate. The cracks were partially intentional and partially from weathering. Most immediately saw a crucifix in the spaces. The group is a Christian study group and the icon of cross is embedded in most of us. Still the points of view on the meaning of cross varied wildly- from an image of death to an image of life. In this photo the green new life and marks of water and wind turned a dead piece of concrete into a sign of new life. One saw the cross as only bringing death to those of other faiths; it was impossible for her to see any life in it until seeing it in the photo. Another saw all the people who had died by those who carried the cross as a symbol of exclusion. While others saw the cross as the death of many who were followers of Christ.
Seeing the cross in the divisions in a sidewalk caused by human hands and natural forces brought out the way the cross can bring forth life and join seemingly divided things and people together.
And what does this have to do with walking to the park with a 9 year old? Somehow when I slow down and really look, take time to listen and really hear – I find the moments of God breaking into my concrete mind and heart of stone. The world rushes by, I think I understand with a quick scan of life – with a nine year old I can taste and see the holiness of each moment.
Photographs Lynn Ronkainen ©2008
The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blog what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.