Clearer One? Clearer Two?

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Have you ever tried to explain an event that you saw and realized that the same event, described by another person who saw it at the same time, sounds very different? It seems to be a factor of humanity – two people can see the same thing in a completely different way. It isn’t that either person is wrong or not paying attention. We all have different things we notice. Some notice more specific detail. Some notice what they felt. There is no one right or wrong way to see an event. It is just the way our brain works.

Life, in so many ways, is like a trip to the eye doctor. The doctor flips a lens inside the giant viewfinder. Clearer one? Clearer two? Is this more sharp? Or is this? We have to choose. Our eyes working together with our brains, allow us to say what we see the clearest.

I think that is a good metaphor for life as well. Our brains, and the lenses we have acquired throughout our life times, help us see and experience the world. Our interactions with people are shaped the same way. Something about a person may remind us of another person we know and form our opinion of them without conscious thought. A pattern of speech, a particular word a person uses, a mannerism, or a physical characteristic reminds our brain of how we see another person we know. We are either more inclined, or less, to like a person based on some of these experiences.

For example, your grandfather, one of your favorite people, uses the phrase, “I’m as fine as frog hairs,” whenever anyone asks him how he is. As part of your love for your grandfather, anyone who says this same phrase has makes you remember your grandfather and think of him fondly. The new person you meet has a warm spot in your heart just because they say the same phrase as your beloved grandfather.

The same line of thought goes to a remembrance that is not so fond. A rape survivor smells the perfume worn by his rapist associates that scent with his rape and instantly dislikes the person wearing it because of the association.

I have been giving a lot of thought to how we see people and react to them. Our lenses and experiences of a person and life can be completely different than someone else’s. If you saw a “upstanding citizen” kicking a dog in an alley and no one else saw it, that has an impression on you. When this person runs for mayor, you probably feel dislike and repulsion to this person, but everyone else looks at you like you are out of your mind. You saw an instant in another person’s life that gives you a different perspective. It may be one you cannot even explain. But the dislike you feel is real, even though no one else can validate it.

You experienced the person outside their shining spot light. And how do you live your life with the knowledge and reality of what you saw and what others have not seen? Our experiences are not always that extreme, but it can just be a feeling or a perspective about another person that makes us uncomfortable.

The lens through which we see is not always a magnifying glass that allows us to see clearer. Sometimes, unfortunately, it clouds our vision and we can’t quite figure out why. Seeing and viewing should be clear and simple, but then it seems, life should be clear cut and crisp. For me, at least it isn’t.

I have tried to make it as clear as possible, but much like my vision, it is complex and I need special lenses to help me see things clearly. We aren’t issued special glasses when we are born and we have to sort a lot of it out as we go. That’s where friends and people we trust can help us. I hope you have people you trust who help you sort it out. I also hope you can sort it out in your own mind. That is often the hardest task of all.

How do you sort out these complex lenses and experiences in life?

Preparing to Go Back

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Last year, my husband Dave, and I visited his childhood town.  Dave spent the first 8 years of his life there, and seeing it was a great experience for both of us.  He has very fond memories of the little town he started off in, and he was able to reconnect with a memory of peace and safety.  I saw the lazy river that literally butts up to the edge of this town, and the unpaved streets of his hometown.  This year, it’s my turn.

I have struggled with whether or not I wanted to return to my hometown to visit.  It’s been almost 20 years.  I have fond memories there, but I also have memories of abuse.  The church where I was raped repeatedly by the pastor, is right in the heart of town.  Visible from the city square – the main attraction of the town.   It’s impossible to avoid the church from coming into my field of vision, or even my thoughts and emotions on this trip.  So, I have been preparing.

My personal growth and healing has taught me to take care of myself, and that is what I will do.  Taking care of myself has been one of the slowest learnings I have had the pleasure of working on.  First, my childhood religion taught me that my needs should always be last, so taking care of myself for many, many years seemed wrong.  Second, I understood “taking care” of anything as literally caring for the physical needs.  I gradually began to expand my understanding to taking care of emotional needs, which included going to therapy.  But, I still thought of “taking care” as mostly cleaning up the damage.  I only started fully understanding self care a few years ago as doing whatever is needed to provide myself with a physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe environment.  Once I understood this, I starting thinking outside the box.

Here are some of the ways I am taking care of myself on this trip to my hometown.  Ways that I never would have thought of before:

  1. We picked a quiet weekend.  I used to be tempted to return to my hometown during a festival weekend, thinking that the activity would be a good distraction from my feelings.  That was putting my feelings in last place.  My feelings are just as much a part of this trip as other goals.  They need to be cared for, not abandoned on this trip.
  2. I asked for extra time off from work. We plan to return on Sunday, but I have asked for Monday off from work.  I have no idea how I might feel after coming face-to-face with physical reminders of both wonderful and horrific memories for the weekend.  I’ve made a day with no expectations on Monday, so that whatever I experience after the trip will not be pushed aside or stuffed because getting back to work is more important.
  3. I have made going into the church optional. In the past, I considered making a trip for the main purpose of reclaiming a physical space that was mine to reclaim.  At times, I still feel that this would be a liberating experience.  Sometimes I feel that I left a vulnerable little girl there.  Other times, I feel that there is no reason to revisit that space – that I am more powerful by not needing to.  Other times, I am just downright scared and sickened to even think about walking in that space.  I don’t know how I will feel on the day that I will be in town.  By leaving my options/agenda open, I am caring for my needs first.  This may seem obvious to others, but I was raised in a culture that demanded decisions, agendas, schedules, and timetables.  I was over 45 years old before I realized how dehumanizing it is when all decisions become irrevocable and schedules are gods.
  4. I have sat with myself in preparation to determine what I want to share with Dave. One of the important things about this trip has nothing to do with the abuse that happened there.  I learned so much about Dave when we visited the town that contained the stories he had shared with me.  Now, we both want him to see the farm and the town that helped shape me as a child.  I lived there for nearly 20 years.  There’s a lot of me in that town.  When I first thought of going back, many abusive memories started to surface.  But, as I processed and acknowledged them, they moved on and some of the gentler, more peaceful memories started to come to mind.  Memory is associative, so it’s hard to compartmentalize it.  It’s like a deck of cards that is constantly being shuffled.  In order to find the card you’re looking for, you have to pass through others in the deck.

I plan to post again after we return from our trip.  I will need time to process, but I’m looking forward to sharing the experience.  Wish me well!