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“Is that a new bird? What is that thing?” My husband was already on his way going back into the house, and I said, “Hey, would you mind grabbing the binoculars? That is an interesting looking bird. I need to see its markings before it takes off.”

The critter sat in the lower branch of the tree. Its scruffy head was a dirty whitish color that gravitated to gray as it went down its neck, which it held like a heron, yet its beak was like that of a raptor. “What is he?” His head had a funny twitch, and it looked like he was trying to find breakfast from the critters at the feeder.

My husband brought my binoculars, and I laughed out loud as I discovered what type of “bird” was in the tree. In truth, I was staring in marvel at the backside of a common squirrel. Its tail was what I thought was the head and neck. I really don’t see well without glasses, but my eyes truly played a trick on me with that one.

Isn’t that typical of life?

How often we see the shape of something that we believe was a big deal and dramatize it, only to learn it’s the backside to something common. We may like the other version better, and it was more exciting, but it wasn’t the truth; it was just the usual stuff.

The reverse could occur just as easily, perhaps even moreso. We could be oblivious to the magnitude of because we are so accustomed to the common. We grow to know and keep the stale without looking to refresh and recognize.

Perception is our reality, but it is not necessarily truth. Just like the new bird in the tree, had I not checked further, I would live my life thinking we had a visitation from an unusual species and wasting valuable time searching books for what it could have been. I am glad I checked with the binoculars first. It's a pain to check stuff, even if we believe we saw it, yet we all need to get the "binoculars" and look more closely. Then when we see a different truth, we need to be willing to correct it and act accordingly.

This whole episode made me think. When have I jumped to a conclusion, thinking the worst, knowing what I saw, yet finding that what I saw wasn’t what was actually there? Then I thought further about what ideas I still held as the truth I “saw” that have actually been different? When have I just accepted and ignored that which was significant?

None of us is perfect, and I believe it's important to try to constantly improve. If we don't keep striving, we run the risk of growing stale in the safety of our structures. I think I'm going to use this little event to reconsider a few areas where I may have locked the door to other ideas, whether they be one of the common or not.

When I taught literature, I always said that one must understand the times when an author lived because that context was important to the story and theme. Language was different; cultures were different, and what was considered normal was very different to today. Life in many ways was simpler; in others, it could be a struggle. Teaching literature required teaching history in order to understand the story, the author's purpose, and motive for writing.

We learned that during historic times there were despicable people, actions, and events. For those who lived before, I cast my judgment using today's values onto those who lived in the past. When I chose to consider my heritage, for example, I judged my ancestors as wicked because they were slave owners, who thought us that they were "good people" anyways because, "We were good to our slaves. They were like family to us. They didn't want to leave." Suddenly, saints became sinners when my lens of 2022 was used instead of my binoculars of what was happening in the late 1800s. I stopped seeing the context of their lives, which was extremely significant, and judged that they were all bad.

Then it occurred to me that we cannot put today's seal of judgment on people of the past using our current gauges of goodness. Times were different. People were different. Laws were different. It doesn't make them right, but it does help us understand others and be less judgmental. Judging anything out of context is like seeing a bird in a tree that wasn't a bird.

Then I realized that regardless of times and situations, perhaps everyone is trying to do the best they can given whatever is going on in their lives and times. Perhaps if we all considered that, we all would have a little more patience for each other. We can realize that what we thought was a big gray bird was actually a common squirrel. Perhaps when we try to see the world from another's perspective, we can open dialogue to understand their truth, and they can understand ours.

We must find a way to work together, but as the common squirrel taught me, I must have a lens for clarity. So, what is our lens? Perhaps it can be a simple phrase: "Help me understand. Tell me about it."

I need my glasses to see clearly, and I need my binoculars to identify critters that are small and distant. Lenses remove the fuzzy and convoluted truths and clarify the lines of reality, and each person has talents and experiences that are unique to them. Each one uses different lenses, but lenses for truth can only be found through empathy, seeking to understand, and wanting to know more than rather than simply finding confirmation of what we want to be true. We may think we may know, and so we don't listen. We may not want to know because we don't think it pertains to us. After all, we all know that it would have been more fun to have that unique gray bird visit my tree. However, had I not had my lens, I would never have known the truth, for it would have been squirreled away.


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