The Forest or the Trees?

Increasingly, I identify with the old adage that talks about how our perspective can be skewed when we are too close to a situation. Sometimes, it’s hard to look at the big picture. The small view may be so immediate that we just can’t get past it.

When I was in charge of teaching Cub Scouts about nature at Day Camp, I used an exercise that I renamed “Honey, I Shrunk the World”. This involved sitting on the ground with legs crossed Indian-style, and throwing a loop of rope down in front of ourselves. After all of our little “worlds” were formed, we took turns describing what was contained there. Many things were the same, but we noticed differences. Some had more green grass, or fewer rocks than others. Maybe there was even wildlife, in the form of an ant-hill. We might have been fortunate enough to lasso a lizard. The idea was to remind these budding ecologists of the complexity and detail of God’s creation. I think it also reminded our young campers that none of us have the same view of what happens around us. After all, the world we come from is a little different than our next-door neighbor’s.

At the opposite extreme, I’ve often been fascinated by the changing view as I’ve flown higher and higher in an airplane. Vehicles that are large enough to contain several fully grown humans began to look like the toys my youngsters played with. Eventually, they looked more like bugs scurrying about, and then disappeared from view altogether. Fields that had been cleared for farming stood out against the forested landscape. They started to look like patches in a crazy quilt, with bodies of water edging them like blue rick-rack.

From my semi-comfortable perch in the sky, I thought about the drama that might be unfolding beneath me. Families were going about their daily business. Happy times and sad times played out while I soared above, oblivious to the details.

During a recent brush-fire, we literally had a bird’s eye view from a distant mountain-top. From our balcony at Mount Magazine lodge, we could see the plume of smoke, and with binoculars, the flames that were consuming acres of trees and brush, and threatening lives and property. Residents and firefighters endured a nightmare. From our perspective, it appeared as an aberration to the beautiful landscape, but with the comfort of our air-conditioned room close at hand, it provided no real threat.

There are times in our lives when we focus on tiny details. During a crisis in our own life, or in the life of someone we care about, we can’t get past the next change of a bandage, the next dose of medicine, the last news we heard from a doctor.

A young mother who is a long time friend of ours currently sits at the bedside of her son, who is awaiting a heart transplant. She endures criticism from those who think she posts too many status updates online. They have no experience with the minutiae she deals with, and can only hope to never need knowledge of such things. Others who have been through a similar situation are able to interpret the confusing details for her, and offer concrete suggestions and encouragement. The rest of us simply promise prayers, and send gifts and postcards to try to provide a more cheerful atmosphere. Social media provides a lifeline, a way to reach out for a cyber hug when it’s needed.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, young people will be competing for medals in the weeks ahead. We won’t have to wait for a weekly tally of results, as technology will allow us to watch in real-time if we so desire. But, from our easy chairs, we can’t possibly have the same sweaty palms, butterfly laden stomachs and adrenalin charged heartbeats as those who are there in person. It’s all about perspective.

Whether you’re on the ground gazing up through the branches, or soaring high above the treetops, your view of life is unique and important. The rest of us will just do our best to understand.

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