We’ve all had a very unsettled 2020 so far, and it isn't over yet.
Our normal has changed. Our lives have adjusted to some extent, but not in all the ways that make this time OK. Every day we talk about this – that no one is OK, and yet, we continue because we remain hopeful for what may come next.
Some days ago, I was on a check-in call with fellow journalists – and we shared and listened to each other, and how the news cycle had affected us – personally, mentally, emotionally. Many journalists were close to the action – covering a protest, writing about an injustice, interviewing people on beaches, struggling to keep themselves safe, telling us about what was going on in Government offices, trying to help us have a well-rounded perspective on the unsettled state of reality. I was grateful for all that I had, to be listening, and safe, but I came away feeling unsettled and sad, because their stories would never be told.
Another few days later, I was struggling to find news from around my mothers’ home – where a cyclone had hit – her home had a good deal of damage, her property had lots of damage. I couldn’t rush out to help her. I wept in frustration. We reassured each other that everyone’s’ safety was key, and that rebuilding would only be a matter of time. I was grateful that we had the ability to breathe easy, to think and plan.
Another few days later, we had needed some urgent repair work around the house. In the few days of discomfort, I reflected that my problem was so minuscule compared to all the things that people were struggling with around the world. I was grateful again, that we had blessings around us.
I am reminded of when I first understood perspectives nearly 25 years ago, perspective drawing. I was in my first year at landscape architecture school taking art classes with a kind young teacher, AC, not much older than me. He was teaching us the fundamentals of drawing and creating perspective, here are the essentials:
The horizontal plane (the ground on which you stand) does not change, but it decides what you see.
The vertical plane (that which is exactly perpendicular to the ground plane) - does not change, i.e it remains perpendicular, but the same sized object gets smaller as it is placed away from you.
The third dimension, the orthogonal lines, connect the ground to the horizon. As it goes away from where you stand, towards the horizon, every ‘plane’ it touches, changes, becomes smaller.
Most importantly, to every perspective, there is a vanishing point – where stuff just blurs and seems to be irrelevant – because it is too far for the eye to see, it is too far to matter from where you are standing.
The next bit he said is teacher gold:
But, to create a good perspective, to start, we need to first locate the vanishing point on the horizon.
I doubt AC ever realized that his words would hold profound meaning, and come back to me twenty-five years later.
With all that we've been experiencing these past few months, I find myself searching for my own vanishing point, and my orthogonal lines.
If only others knew what it means to share their stories: of war, hunger, starvation, death, of illness and frustration, of disasters, of injustices, or what it means to be tasked to tell them.
If only others knew what another's hurt felt like, to experience another person's anguish, discomfort, frustrations, joys, and jubilation's, or what it means to share in someone else’s pain.
If only others understood another's pain, isolation, cries for help, need for acceptance and love, for equality – without making it about anything else except the human who was hurt.
The past few months have given us so much sadness. The needless deaths, the destruction of civil behavior, remorseful officials, and corrupt individuals too self-righteous to know or do better – asking the rest of us to recognize the importance of our words and our actions.
At the end of the day I ask myself: why is it impossible to offer the same respect or dignity to others as we would want for ourselves? Dignity is a human right, in any stage of life or career.
The unrelenting discord all around me makes me sad: it takes so little for us to lose perspective. There are adults for whom nothing is enough. Their lens is narrow, they question everything if it does not address their needs, constantly. Everything is a problem, inadequate or insufficient, nothing is good enough, and they want more - not because they are determined, but because they don't know what they are looking for, nothing short of being needy.
But there are others who give us tremendous hope - who think of others first: how can I help, how can I support/serve/comfort/praise someone else, not because it will give them any satisfaction, but because it is an extension of our goodwill, our humanity towards each other. Those who connect with us to share in our sadness, anxiety or grief, more than those who (only) cheer on a happy event - are important, because their connection recognizes and respects the humanity in all of us. Some days they become my orthogonal lines.
It is never too late to shape a clear perspective.
To create a good perspective, we need to first locate the vanishing point on the horizon.
What are we walking towards: respect, fame, glory, accolades, wealth, acceptance? Will reaching it be enough? At what ‘point’ or what 'marker' will it take to make what we want now- irrelevant? The vanishing point tells us how we measure everything in the present context. Although the vanishing point is never reached, it is an optimistic goal in the distance.
The horizontal plane, the ground plane – represents our values.
The values that we are ‘grounded’ in will not change, but where we are in relation to them will change our perspective, even if we keep the same vanishing point. Our perspectives change based on where we stand, even if everything around else remains the same.
The vertical plane represents our connections to the powers above us.
It is our spirituality- whether it is God in one of their many versions, or the universe. Although that connection does not change, as one moves further from it, it becomes less important, it merges with the vanishing point- and appears to become irrelevant.
The orthogonal lines represent change and support.
They connect between now and the vanishing point, far in the distance, and they influence everything - and it matters.
The vanishing point is our one constant - it defines our beginning and where we end up.
It continues to stay in the distance, where everything appears blurry and irrelevant. But identifying that singular point of seeming irrelevance when we build our perspective, will allow us to shape an accurate view of our present, our now, and everything that comes between now and eternity.
Have you found your vanishing point yet?