Friday, November 5, 2010

Looking Up

This post is brought to you from a land far, far away--Indiana. Right now, I'm sitting in a room with Connor and Charlie. We've been talking for a while about the intricacies of the movie The Prestige, and with all of this brain power floating around in one room, I figure it's a good time to write a blog. I started having the idea for this post a couple days ago, and then yesterday we were at a Christian book store when I saw a book by Beth Moore called Looking Up. So I've been beat to the punch by Beth Moore again. Once I was going to write a post called "Feathers from My Nest: A Mother's Reflection," but then she beat me to that one too. She's always one step ahead of me.

I have a bad habit of not looking up when I walk somewhere. Instead, I tend to just look at the ground a few feet in front of me. I've been doing this for a long time. I think that in part, this habit has developed out of a fear of tripping. When I was in first grade, a girl in the after-school program challenged me to a race in which we would jump rope all the way across the gym. I was pretty good at jumping rope, so I was confident I would win. I started off great, but then about halfway through I tripped over the rope and smashed my face into the hardwood. Who knows how good-looking I would be today if that hadn't happened? And so, I look down when I walk. I remember when I was six or seven, I was walking with my dad out of Kroger when he commented on it, so I decided to look up as we were walking to the car, and it was like I saw an entire world that I never before existed. But that is definitely not my natural inclination.

You don't tend to be very popular when you always walk around with your head down. People think you're bitter and unsociable. Which may very well be true, but if you're not like that, I've heard that people will be warmer toward you if you look up and smile. Apparently body language is supposed to communicate. Who knew?

This picture of looking up/down is a good metaphor of how different people approach life. There are some who go through life with their head down, looking at the ground in front of them. There are two effects of such a perspective. First, when you're looking down, you have no reason to think that anything will ever be any different. When I walk with my head down, all I can see are the four feet of sidewalk in front of me. For all I know, that sidewalk just goes on forever. When we go through life with our heads down, we assume that life will go just as it is now. We focus on our present situation and forget that there may be something beyond that. When I was in sixth grade, my Sunday School class used a book called Someone's Making a Monkey Out of You to talk about creation and evolution, and that when I learned the word "uniformitarianism." This is the idea that natural laws have always functioned at the same rate and in the same ways for all time. It stuck with me because it was the fanciest word I knew at the time, and it still may be. In any case, living life with your head down result in a uniformitarian outlook. Because all I can see is what is happening right now, I come to believe that this is what will happen for the rest of my life.

The result of this is fatalism. You come to believe that life has dealt us a certain hand of cards, and that's what you're stuck with. If, at the time, you are pretty happy with your life, and if things are going your way, you become an optimist to a fault. You see those four feet of sidewalk as gold-plated, and you think that it will continue as such forever. When something bad actually does happen, you don't know how to handle it, and your fatalism may swing to the opposite extreme--pessimism. If, as you have your head down, you aren't happy with your life, and all you see in the sidewalk are cracks in the cement with weeds creeping through,  you drag your feet and sulk because you think this is how it will be forever. And before long, no one wants to hang out with you because all you do is complain about your life and try to bring everyone else down in an effort to somehow make yourself feel better.

All of this is related to the second effect of walking with your head down: you limit your ability to choose an alternate course. If all I see are the four feet of sidewalk in front of me, I don't have very many options of where I'm going. I can keep walking down the sidewalk, or I could turn around and go back maybe. But that's about it. I don't see any other paths to take. As a result, I never change or grow. I stay the same year after year, never realizing that I have the power to determine where I go.

The alternative to all of this, of course, is to walk with your head up. When you do this, the effects I mentioned earlier are reversed. No longer are you confined to believing that all of life is the sidewalk. You see trees and buildings and other sidewalks, and you realize that life actually can change. Things may not always stay the same. There is more out there than your present situation. Maybe that's why, when a friend is have a tough time, we say things like, "Chin up, Champ!" or "Keep your head." In those times, we need to know that there is something more out there, that the crap we deal with no won't last forever.

When we live with our heads up, we also open ourselves up to innumerable possibilities of action. We see that we don't have to walk down the same sidewalk forever, but we can go all sorts of places. Maybe I'll choose to go down the stairs to the right, or maybe I'll go in that building, or maybe all just run through the grass. I'm no longer locked into the same path. Instead, I see multiple possible futures, and I have the ability to choose where I'll go. I can enact change in my own life. So if I don't like something about my life as it is, I can take steps to change it. In another year or two, I might not be quite the same as I am now. I become a round character in my story instead of a flat one.

So, my encouragement to you is this: Look up. Don't get caught up so much in your present situation that you forget that there is more out there, and we have the power to go take hold of it. Granted, this means that we may at times trip and fall on our faces, but we pick ourselves back up and keep going. The ability to live a worthwhile story depends so much on vision, and we need to pick our heads up and see what's out there.

There is a guy who used to go to Ozark who is really good at film and cinematography and such. Recently, I watched a video he made about a person who writes a blog. I'm going to ruin the ending for you if you keep reading this, so be prepared. But in the short movie, the blogger is struggling to come up with something new to write about, so she goes to a little motel in the middle of nowhere and starts murdering people. Yikes. Who knew writer's block could be so lethal?

Rolled around in Charlie's Grand Am last night listening to Flobots. I've missed that.


Caitlyn said...

So here's a thought about looking up. I look up all the time. I know what my feet look like, and I really would rather look around and see everything. But sometimes when you're looking up and around, you can get distracted and forget what the original goal was.
For example: I was downtown this past weekend with an hour to kill, and I wanted to find a restaurant I had heard was down there, so I decided to just walk until I found it. I knew the cross streets - but I never found it. In fact, I walked that intersection twice but didn't see it. There was so much else I was looking at, I forgot what I was looking for. So I guess now you should probably write a blog on GPS or something.

Kinsey said...

I like your point of view on this post David. But, I also think that it's okay to look at your feet sometimes. Because sometimes if your head is down and focused on the steps ahead and where you're at right now then you don't miss living in the moment. What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

D-Heff said...

Kinsey, I agree with you. I think there is a difference between living in a moment and getting stuck in a moment. We need to enjoy where we are right now, but we can't let our present situation define our entire lives, if that makes sense. Eh?