The closer we are to a situation, the less clear it looks. – Wally Lamb, We Are Water
I read this sentence the other day and it hit me right between the eyes.
The eyes that for the last few years have been failing, giving reason to purchase and stash several pairs of cheap magnifiers in drawers and containers all over the house, a behavior that I previously only heard about middle-aged women doing. An army of middle-aged women walking around in curlers, slippers, and housecoats, cigarettes dangling from their pinched lips as they haphazardly ironed their husband’s threadbare work shirts to within an inch of their lives, leaving behind scorch stains on collars and guileless entrapment in the air.
There I was, reading and re-reading and writing down these words so that I could remember, squinting at my handwriting because where are my glasses? I held the page at arm’s length and the words became clearer.
The closer I am, the less I see – it’s a simple truth, often said in different ways.
We hurt the ones we love the most – they are nearer to our waves of shame and embarrassment, leading to defense and blame. They see our mistakes and aren’t afraid to tell us we’re wrong. We let down our guard with them, are safe with them – their love won’t dry up just because we lash out now and then. But we have to be careful; over time, even the closest relationships crumble when we defend too much. When we trust we won’t lose their love, we forget that the wounds we inflict run deep.
We lose perspective when we see only one part of a situation. The one puzzle piece we examine closely loses its meaning when on its own. Fit into the larger picture, it occupies a meaningful position. Held in hand, eyed thoughtfully and thoroughly, it’s one-dimensional. It might be interesting to us, but everywhere else it’s nothing. Our own experiences are infinitely interesting to us, but when we bring them up to others out of context, we seem insensitive, foolish, self-centered, boring.
There is a back-and-forth to life, a careful assessment of personal experience coupled with an overview of where that life fits into the world. This dance, when unbalanced, looks like selfishness at one extreme and loss of self at the other.
If we don’t pay attention, we miss what’s going on around us. If we pay too much attention, we miss what’s happening within us.
Whatever we’re closest to loses its meaning in the big picture if we don’t step back once in a while and take it all in.
I wish there was a formula for achieving the perfect balance, always seeing the clear picture. I am a list-maker, like to follow a set of rules. Simplifying the execution is the name of my favorite game; if I do the work up front, the rest of the job is easy. Checking boxes is my favorite sport.
So is missing the forest for the trees.
There’s a world of people to learn from, to hold us accountable, to share life with. We can do our part by looking up and out and then down and in, transforming into the best version of ourselves. We can cultivate our unique talents and gifts and then give them away, to make life better for all.
The closer we are to something, the less clear it seems.
It’s worth it to step back and see where we are.