Not long ago, I was invited to the home of a couple I’d only recently met. I received somewhat complicated directions that required me to travel to an area not more than a few miles from my home, but completely unfamiliar to me. A series of turns quickly took me from city streets to a county road, and from there, onto a rural lane that steeply angled up a verdant hill. In a matter of ten minutes I went from a flat and tree-lined suburban neighborhood, to pine-dotted rolling hills with houses spaced a mile or more apart. Abruptly, the gently sloping roadway became a sharp climb for more than half a mile leading to the completely level driveway outside the home of this new acquaintance.
The home was modest, the other invited guests were interesting and congenial, but the real draw of the evening was the view. Floor to ceiling windows offered a panoramic look at green fields and a small orchard near the base of this peak, a wandering highway and country houses in the middle distance. A sweep of forest interrupted narrow swaths of hay ground, and acres of pasture. Rectangular golden patches, set at intervals across it all were fields of wheat awaiting harvest. It reminded me of the way Google Earth provides a look at places I will never visit in person—and yet, I had traveled through that same area only minutes before—without seeing it at all. I was getting a new perspective.
I offer this lengthy explanation of traveling fewer than ten miles in order to illustrate how utterly different things can look from a new vantage point. Taking in the sights from that wall of tall windows, I realized that my perspective had been small while down on the highway, but had been suddenly expanded and lengthened in ways that caused me to wonder what else I might be missing from the closed in view “below”. While on the hilltop, I could recognize a few individual locations—a singular barn close to the road, for example—but in one glance I was aware of hundreds of points that I had completely failed to see before. From the high ground, I became aware of the way the terrain changed from one section to another, and how they connected at fence rows or diverged along small streams—I had missed all that in passing. Up close, I saw individual scenes, but from the high ground, it was a singular, consecutive and understandable landscape.
Being at this elevated location brought with it an insight that should have been obvious from any location, but the physical experience was an illustration that could not be missed. I recognized that life can be looked at as individual situations, problems, relationships in the same way that I passed through neighborhoods, country roads and lanes. With the help of a more philosophical view, life can be seen more as an understandable landscape that has discrete but interconnected parts, in much the same way the unobstructed vista became understandable from the hilltop. Of course, in this time of pandemic crisis, I am focused like everyone else on issues of safety and health. I tune in to be more proactive in my response to the outbreak. Those are the lowland, individual views of life right now. But I also have the option of looking at it all through the perspective of higher ground—a philosophical view that is not quite so constricted, specific or scary.
Like that wall of windows offering a view that stretched for miles—if I slow my thoughts and fears long enough to allow it—I can see how staying at home, social distancing, and giving greater attention to cleaning, is but one portion of the landscape of my life. The high ground perspective lets me see more. I might even perceive little perks available right now: an extra hour of sleep maybe, or the joy in video chatting with a friend. I can take the perspective that this is like camping (without, I’m glad to say, insects, sleeping on hard ground or cooking over a fire). I am doing many ordinary activities but doing them in an alternative place, and doing them in an unfamiliar way. When I think of it like this, I feel more in control and sense the flexibility I have to manage the situation. It leaves me free to recall other times when I’ve faced challenges, or dealt with the emotions that go with being in unfamiliar circumstances.
I can’t control the virus, or the news reports about it. I can’t control how stores will address the need for various products, or keep my neighbor from buying ten times what he needs. But I can create reminders for myself that life is bigger than this moment, bigger than this month or even this one year. I have begun silently repeating to myself the phrase, “Look out a bigger window,” as a way to focus my thoughts on something outside myself, bigger than my own concerns, longer lasting and maybe more philosophical than what is right in front of us. From that perspective, I can relax a bit. I’m not in denial of the danger or devastation, but I am seeing more of the expansive landscape of living.