Sunday, December 4, 2016

You Gotta Squint to See Better

A year ago, I had traveled to central Massachusetts to attend a conference for work, and when it was over, stayed an extra day to visit with my sister.

While I was there, she had her Christmas tree delivered.  It was a lovely spruce tree, and it immediately made the room smell divine.  Later that evening, she began a slow waltz of placing lights on the tree, stepping back, then stepping in again to adjust, and then placing the next swoop of lights.

Confession:  I have never enjoyed the decorating part.  I love having the tree, but the act of decorating has never given me joy.  But I love my sister, and so I helped.

My helping normally involves handing the lights around the back of the tree, and then pulling the slack.  The idea of adjusting is so foreign to me that it had to be explained.

The real trick, explained Caroline, is to squint.  If you step back for a second and squint your eyes almost shut, you can see the areas of the tree that are still dark. Then you can adjust the lights to fill that void.
Tree by James Wade


"Try it", she said.

Now my family has a long history of telling one another stories with the sole purpose of making the victim do something and look ridiculous, so that we can mock them.  It was definitely not out of the realm of possibility that I was being set up.  But I was also curious, so I tried it.

And I gasped.  "Are you kidding me?  Where did you learn that?"

"Patty taught me."

"I wonder why she never explained that to me..."

"Were you ever around when the decorating was being done?  Or did you escape after your one ornament was placed on the tree?"

OK.  She had a point.  One of Mom's rules was that we had to 'help' decorate the tree, even if that just meant placing one or two ornaments.  I was never a shirker, but I was always impatient to do something else, so I never stuck around.

Caroline, from when she was a little girl, was Mom's celebrator.  She loved the decorating, the rhythm of it, the pageantry, and the simple beauty of the resulting vignette.  A trait that she shared with mom.  So it is no surprise that the high priestess passed along to the next generation some of the specialty knowledge.

It made me so happy to see it, and I can scarcely look at a tree without squinting now.  I do it, and I see the gaps, but I also glory in the beauty - it suffuses the entire scene with soft light, making the entire tableau into a gentle, beautiful, serene place.

It has gotten me to thinking, however, about the other elements in my life that could do with a squint.
This past week I was involved with a training class on collaboration, where we practice the art and science of working with groups with different backgrounds and different interests to come up with solutions that are mutually acceptable.  It is not an easy process.

Williams' tree.
But one of the critical elements is making sure you have all of the appropriate people at the table when you make the decision.  That means looking around the table, squinting your eyes, and figuring out which spot lacks light.  Stopping the process long enough to step back, squint, then step back and adjust.  Invite the troublemakers, the obstructors, and the revolutionaries, and find the part that they have in filling the empty spaces.

Reviewing the reports submitted to my office has some of the same thing.  I read all of it, trying to find the places where the light does not shine, and find what is missing. And with the people down at the district, we adjust the group to fill that void.

Looking around me, squinting, I see people who need something that I can provide.  Sometimes, a kind word. Other times, a little financial help.  Sometimes, just a little bit of time, to listen.

Then, broaden my view,  My community.  My nation.  My tribe.  What is it that is needed, to fill in the picture, and create the beauty that is supposed to be there?  The glorious joy that we are supposed to share?

Christmas spirit might just mean that.  The advent - the coming - of the season where we squint, to see the voids around us, and move in to adjust.  To move things into place.  To make small changes.  And then step back, squinting again, at the glorious joy and beauty of the world around us.

Tidings of comfort.  And joy.

1 comment:

Jule Darby said...

I missed reading this last year, but I'm sure glad I found it today. What a lovely piece, and so apropos.