THE PURLOINED LETTER
 
   
 
renice.com web

 

Sunday, January 02, 2005


Selective Perceptions 


Travis has me thinking about a few things. For one thing, I'm reminded of how much I value other perspectives – we tiny creatures are utterly isolated without our conversations, sometimes without even recognizing how isolated.

Travis's post of the image that helped him understand what's happened in Southeast Asia reminded me of one of my foibles which I only first recognized while a grad student. Rob and I had met for our semi-weekly lunch at Intermezzo Café. Throughout the hour, while we sat next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, I often gazed at the pattern of snow melting off the small river rocks spread out beside our feet. Before we left, I thought I should share with Rob how beautiful the image was that had captivated me throughout our discussions. He agreed it was beautiful and laughed hard because he hadn't noticed it previously. Then he said he'd reciprocate by pointing out all the dead birds he'd been counting during the same time. (A few years later, I tried to convince Krannert Center authorities to post hawk silhouettes to curb the carnage, but their sense of aesthetics prevailed. Years after that, I knew exactly where to go when I wanted a dead bird for one of my pieces.) As Rob pointed out one lifeless songbird after another resting on the grey pebbled terrace, I was stunned: I had looked directly at them, but hadn't seen one.

All these years later, my perceptions are just as selective as ever; I couldn't see the bodies in the image that had so strongly affected Travis until he pointed them out. And I am once again taken aback.

Karl Nilsson of Sweden, AP photo by David LongstreathTravis also pointed me to this heartbreaking photo of 7-year-old Karl Nilsson, the only surviving member of a family of 5. It reminds me of another of my endless foibles: My understanding of others' experiences is limited by how they relate to things from my own life. In this instance, I'm reminded of a yellowed newspaper's front-page photo my father showed us while telling us about his childhood. The old news photo depicted a little blond boy looking numb and lost as he was lead down courtroom steps by 2 towering officials. (As the only surviving member of a family of 5, my father was further traumatized when 3 different families battled in court for his custody.)

In a recent article, a woman now caring for Karl "Kalle" Nilsson said, "All night, when he heard the noise of a truck or car, Kalle woke up and asked me, 'Is it another wave coming?'" Even this saddens me by resurrecting my own images of my father nervously pacing and chain smoking during heavy rainstorms to this day.

The word history connotes wide sweeping panoramas of the whole past of humanity, but in these tiny paralleled stories of 2 little boys separated by half the globe and three-quarters of a century, history repeats in miniscule ebbs and swells.

Nature's most recent reminder of what tiny creatures we are on this earth has lines from Shakespeare's 60th sonnet reverberating across my sad and sadly fading synapses:
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
. . .
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
. . .


See Time for Retrospectives for an update on Karl Nilson.