When I was a college student, one of my favorites places to visit on the campus was the church in the main quad. At the time, I wasn’t religious at all, nor was I spiritual. But still, something about this church was very calming and inviting to me.
Often, on the weekend, I would get up in the morning and walk over to this church after the church services had ended, or hadn’t begun yet. Once I reached the church, I would walk inside and roam the nearly empty aisles. The wooden pews always appeared as if they had just been polished. The sun would shine through the stained glass windows and drop down across the lonely people who prayed. They were praying for a better life, perhaps, maybe for more money, for a fix to a broken relationship, or maybe for the safe passing of a deceased loved one…
Sometimes I would sit in one of these lovely pews and just stare at the church’s expansive ceiling as it soared high above me. I didn’t pray. I just sat and observed. For me, as an atheist at a time, going to this church was more like an archeological expedition. Or just an opportunity to admire the church’s lovely architecture. (I didn’t have the language at the time to call these visits a weekly meditation.)
Some days, I just sat and watched as others prayed. Other days, I would stand up and walk around the edges of the church, examining the far walls. There, written on these walls, etched in stone, were various quotes. Some of these quotes were from the bible, some weren’t.
One day, I came across one quote in particular that struck me. These words were so powerful that I remember them even to this day, nearly eight, or so, years later. But since I didn’t write the quote down at the time, I’ll just have to paraphrase it here:
If each one of us carried a bag, and in that bag was all our suffering and all of our troubles, and if we each laid our individual bags in the center of a room, until all the bags were piled high, one on top of the other, until the pile of bags reached the ceiling, we would be surprised at what would happen next: we would stare at all of the bags that weren’t our own, and see their size, or notice their weight, or their color, or their texture, and, after each one of us had thoroughly examined the bags that belonged to the others, each one of us would go back to this pile and pick up the bag that belonged to us, and then take it with us as we walked out of the room.
What Is Perspective?
We are always convinced that we are carrying the biggest, ugliest burden anyone could ever carry. But if we ever had the chance to lay down our burdens next to the burdens of others, we would end up not trading our current life experience with somebody else’s.
This wise truth reminds us of two things:
1. That we should never assume that someone else’s life is easy.
We each carry our own burdens, and although each burden is unique, not one is “more heavy” or “less heavy” than the other. No burden is less or more than another–each burden is only different from another burden.
2. That our burdens are meant for us, because life knows that we can handle them.
I’ve always held the strong belief that life only gives us challenges it knows we can handle. If the challenge seems insurmountable, that’s because it only seems that way. Life, on the other hand, knows we can overcome it.
But often times, when we are in the thick of life getting in the way of our most ambitious plans, we can forget. We can forget that even though the challenge is hard, we would take this challenge over any other challenge that someone else is currently facing.
We each have our own unique journeys. No two are the same, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. So don’t fear if your journey doesn’t seem to be shaping up to resemble someone else’s. That’s because it’s not mean to be.
How boring would it be, anyway, if every mountain was identical? If every valley were the same? The most gorgeous of landscapes hold their beauty because of all the jagged edges they carry, as well as all the straight lines they display. The uniqueness of each natural landmark, and the originality that it brings when held up against the others, is what makes a beautiful landscape a beautiful landscape.
So, too, does the uniqueness of each of our lives set against one another make up for the beautiful landscape of all of humanity. If we were all the same, humanity would just be a sprawling flatland, and how uninspiring would that be?
So what if your mountain range looks too small, or your valley’s not deep enough? Maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe all you’re meant to be is the unique expression of you, and your own original journey. Never-before-seen. Fresh. New. And wonderful.
The Importance of Perspective
It is important to note, too, that the most creative stories and paintings must have appeared ugly at first. You can certainly imagine many critics declaring Picasso as an inadequate painter after looking at the work of Picasso when it was first introduced. But we all would laugh at that art critic today for making such a naive, premature criticism of Picasso’s work.
So let us refrain from making such naive, premature criticisms about our own work–or about our own lives–as they both, slowly, come into being.
Ugly, awkward, inefficient, boring, dreadful, incomplete, full of holes, slow, fast, uneven, cliché, weird, confusing.
Yes, the criticism will come. From the outside and from within. But let’s not be too premature about it.
Sometimes we need to wait for things to unfold before we declare a situation “good” or “bad.” Then again, who can ever really declare something good or bad with great certainty? No one. So, forget “good” and “bad,” and instead try: “this is when I half-assed it” and “this is when I tried my best.” When you half-assed it, figure out how you can make sure you don’t half-ass it in the future; and if you tried your best, pat yourself on the back.
And if we are still certain that ours is the worst bag of burdens, we might try a little perspective.
Perspective teaches us that although it may seem like the world is getting more and more violent, in reality, humanity is becoming more and more peaceful. Perspective teaches us that although it might seem as if we are a “slave” to our work, in reality, there are actual, real-life slaves still living in this world who would probably argue against this assertion.
Sometimes we need to seriously sit down and ponder all the other realities that could have been—what other lives we could have lived—what other stories we could have written. If we did that, we might find that if we were given a choice to pick any bag among all the other bags in this world filled with burdens, we would still chose our own.