Look With Your Hands, Not Just Your Eyes

hands

Last summer, in late July, I made an impromptu, last-minute trip to Texas to visit my dad and extended family. Every time I go home I spend alot of time with one of my cousins, who is really more like a sister to me. At one point during my short visit, we went to the local HEB to grab a few groceries.  While there, I stopped by the hair care aisle, hoping to find some bobby pins.  (When you’re trying to grow out a pixie cut, you need all the help you can get to look presentable). I scanned the hangers of barrettes, pony tail rings, and bobby pins, but could not find what I was looking for.  I wanted short, brown pins that would match my hair.  All I saw, though, were long brown and black pins, and short black pins. In feigned exasperation, I gave up and turned to head to the checkout lane.  My cousin stopped me and exclaimed:  “Julie, you’ve got to look with your hands, not your eyes!”  Sure enough, she dug through the packs of pins and on the far back end of a hanger that held mostly pins I didn’t want, she found exactly what I was going for.

I was happy with the bobby pin find, but what thrilled me more at the time was the really good metaphor that she had just given me for how to do life.  In all fairness, she didn’t really come up with the saying; a friend of hers had told her the same thing once when my cousin had opened the fridge to find something and couldn’t spot it. Her friend had also told her, “Girl, you’ve got to move stuff around, and look with your hands and not just look with your eyes!”

It’s really easy to approach life in a superficial fashion; to go beyond the surface, and see the thing behind the thing….that takes effort.  But, I think it’s kind of like with the bobby pins….you’ve got to go deep to find what it is your heart, and sometimes hair, is really searching for.

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I totally got called out by a friend this weekend, and it was really annoying.  I had initially called HIM out on something, accusing him of being inconsiderate and for basically being a jerkface. But, in an unexpected twist of events, he turned it right back around on me and damn it if he wasn’t right, and the way I was acting was as dumb or worse than what I had been irritated with him about.

Don’t you just hate it when life so accurately and swiftly humbles you like this? And then YOU feel like the jerkface.

The basic premise of his argument, which to my utter chagrin was spot on, was that I get a narrative about certain things stuck in my head that I won’t let go of. Then, I respond and act out against that narrative, believing it’s true when a good deal of the time it isn’t. Ultimately, it’s laziness on my part.  Instead of asking questions with an open mind and probing to find understanding, I often take the easy way out and assume that the thoughts that come to my head about the situation are automatically true.

It’s so tempting, and easy, to get lazy with relationships we are in. We project our stories about what we believe about people onto them, and then we insist on interacting with those projections instead of understanding that those people are living, dynamic, nuanced humans. It’s easier for us, but doing this robs us of authenticity in our relationships and isn’t loving towards the other person.  And when we insist on responding only to our stories about people, we miss all the really good stuff that presents itself when we choose do the hard relationship work and embrace the mystery that each person brings to the table.

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One of my very best friends was officially ordained as a Mennonite USA pastor the other day. She is one of the most amazing, wise women I know.  She has worked long and hard to get to this point, and it is absolutely her calling and where she is meant to be.

Due to the COVID, her ordination ceremony was held on Zoom.  She invited so many of her friends and mentors to be a part of the ceremony, by offering blessings, presenting readings, or reflecting on her journey to this ordination.  One presenter referenced the passage in the gospels where Jesus told Peter to cast his nets on the other side of the boat, when Peter was having little luck dragging up fish. According to her, in the translation from the original text, Jesus was encouraging Peter to “launch out into the deep”.  She was making a different point when bringing up this phrase, but these words hooked me when I thought about the message Jesus always had for people.  In all of his parables and teachings, Jesus repeatedly urged people to look beyond what they saw with their eyes, to move beyond the superficial.  This is why he told parables, I think.  He wanted people to wrestle with life, to dig hard to unearth God’s mysteries, to search beyond the obvious, and to understand that being human and existing in this world is about so much more than just black and white.

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There’s a Facebook meme of a Glennon Doyle quote I saw the other day that feels spot-on for me.  It said:

“Stop asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.”

In my weird, warped logic, I used to think that I had to take seriously pretty much any advice that people threw at me. These days, I am very picky about who I let speak into my life. To put this as politely as possible, this is because some people try to spout off about things when they have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about.  Of course, most people speak only out of good intentions, but sometimes when they haven’t gone through the thick and thin of dark things, they can just never understand the dynamics of what someone is going through.  In those cases, I think it’s way better to keep one’s mouth shut, and if you want to be helpful and loving, just offer as intense of presence as possible.

These days, I take most seriously the words of those who have faced the hard things head-on. I talk about post-divorce issues with people who are divorced. I see therapists who regular go to their own therapy sessions. When I’m tempted to listen to criticisms from people about my kids’ behaviors, I defer instead and listen to my fellow moms and dads who have also raised multiple kids, who have struggled with children who are amazing, yet also incredibly challenging. I take relationship advice from the people that I see who are working hard to improve themselves in their own relationships and who don’t let excuses keep them from jumping back into the game again and again after being hurt or rejected. I try to emulate the people who I see doing incredibly brave things, who are diving headfirst into their humanity…who are willing to both succeed and fail fantastically.  I take these people the most seriously because they are living life with their hands, and not just their eyes.  They recognize that most issues in life are complex and multi-dimensional, and cannot be described through pithy statements and platitudes.

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The reason I like this metaphor that my cousin offered me last year was because it describes two sides of truth, both of which are necessary, and which can’t stand alone. Looking with your eyes is about utilizing beliefs, facts, and logic.  Those bobby pins I was looking for were really supposed to be on a specific hanger just for that length and color. But looking with your hands speaks to the importance of life experience and walking the walk. I had to dig through those bobby pins, going beyond belief and logic, to find that they were in fact there…just not in the way I had expected.

Our eyes certainly have limitations.  We can’t “see” wave/particle duality.  We can’t “see” DNA.  We can’t “see” distant galaxies. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  We as humans have stumbled upon these other discoveries because we figured out ways to look without using the naked eye.  We use our eyes when they work for us, but realize that they can only take us so far.

Each of us as individuals is also limited in what we can understand about life when we stay on the periphery and don’t engage. Our beliefs can only take us so far; the knowledge that we get from books or other people usually can only address very specific situations.  It is when we choose to dig in with our metaphorical hands, release our entrenched narratives about things, work through our pain, and broaden our experiences…that’s when we really start to “see”.  And I think that’s when we can finally start finding what it is that we are really yearning for.

 

 

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