When I was a sophomore in college, I had an epiphany. I remember exactly where I was standing when it happened. I had gone to the Richland County Public Library to spend some time with God.
I got distracted.
So, I wandered over the window and began to watch the people and cars swarming back and forth three stories below. Now, it's important that you realize; this wasn't an ordinary window. Two of the four outer walls of the library were made entirely of glass. They ran all the way from the street to the roof. So, I got a pretty good view of what was going on below me. As I watched the people from my third story perch, I was struck with an idea that, while simple and fairly obvious, had never occurred to me before:
Everybody down there has problems.
But not just problems. They have successes. Failures. They have things which bring them immense joy. Things and people that they love. They have things which have happened in their past, or are happening in their present, which sadden them to tears. To put it very succinctly:
They each have a life.
I think that, if we're honest with ourselves, most of the time we think of our life as a movie. A movie with us as the star. And as the star, our plotline is central to the story. It IS the story. Everyone else; the "extras", just blend into the background. They aren't like us. Not central to the plot. Not having to deal with their own problems or celebrate their own joys. They're only there to help move our story along.
So I had this epiphany. And I thought about it for the next week or so. When you see a person, you're only seeing a piece of them. Your seeing a representation of the whole of their life experience manifested into the figure before you. Kind of a "tip of the iceberg", if you will.
An iceberg is visible above water. But only a small portion of it. Beneath the surface lies most of its' mass.
In the same way, when we see a person, we see a small piece of them. But, below the surface, lies most of their mass: what makes them who they are.
And, if we could look below the surface, if we could look into the depths and gaze at the hurts, the joys, the triumphs, the heartbreaks; the life, then maybe we could better understand who the person that we're looking at really is.
Which leads me to the present:
I saw the movie "Crash" last week.
If you haven't seen it, I would highly recommend it.
"Crash" is movie which involves multiple story lines delicately woven together to form a story of how we relate to each other. Mainly, how we interpret each other through our own views/beliefs/values concerning race.
As I sat watching this movie, I couldn't help but be transported back to the library. In the movie, all of the characters are presented with a situation involving their interaction with someone of another race. Most of the characters react, or act, in a way that would lead you to believe that they are racist. Or maybe in some cases; an a**hole. (Editor's Note: Some of you may object to my choice of words in the previous sentance. I'm OK with that. Please understand that I do not use profanity in my everyday life, nor do I endorse its' use by others. However, sometimes in life, we must call a spade a spade and use a strong word to describe an equally strong behavior. Watch the movie. You'll understand.) As you continue to watch the movie, small pieces of each character are revealed to give you a little bit of a clue as to why they may have behaved the way that they did.
I wonder why it is that we let our pasts control us? Why do we let our past experience dictate our present reality?
As pieces of each character are slowly revealed, we are allowed to glimpse "beneath the surface" of the person.
This intrigued me. I found myself making excuses for the characters. "Oh, he or she did that because of that. Of course they did that! How else would they behave based on what they've been through!"
Often times, I've said the words, "If only so-and-so knew what I've been through, they'd understand why I am doing this." But, sometimes, that's just not true.
Yes, we are affected by our past. Yes, who we are today is based upon, or rather, determined by, the road we've taken to get there. But that doesn't change this simple truth:
Everyday, when we wake up, we are presented with a choice:
We get a chance to start brand new. We get a chance to change.
Our past cannot be used as an excuse for what we do in the present. Yes, we all operate within a certain context which has been written by our choices, circumstances, consequences, and results. But we cannot allow ourselves to be controlled by them.
"Crash" is a great movie for two reasons:
1) It makes you think about how you see other people.
It forced me to re-examine how it is that I interact with other people by helping me to see that there's more to a person than what i see at first glance...or second glance...or eighty eighth glance. This movie made me want to seek to understand people more. Maybe if I can take the time to glance below the surface, I'll be able to see how it is that someone arrived where they are and how I can REALLY help them where they need it the most.
2) It makes you re-examine yourself.
After the movie was over, and for the next week, I've been looking below my surface and re-examining my journey. I've been recalling my past, and how it is that I got to where I am today. One of the things that I've asked myself is: How much am I letting my past have control over my present and my future?
I have a choice. We all do. No matter what happened yesterday or last year or 10 years ago, we have the choice to let it control us, or start all over.
In a way, I guess that we're all icebergs floating out in the ocean. We see each other as we float by and assume that the little bit of ice that pokes out of the water is all that there is to see. If only we took the time to peak below the surface...of others...and ourselves. We might find that there's more to know, or better yet, to understand, than we ever dreamed...