Annie Dillard wrote an essay called "Seeing" in which she talks about how difficult it is to see the things right before us. She describes a time she couldn't see the hundreds of blackbirds in a nearby tree until they flew off in a flapping frenzy. It reminds me of countless vacations where somebody saw something - an animal, a shooting star - and tried to point it out to someone else to no avail. Whales, in fact, are perfect sources of this sort of frustration, when everyone else seems to see them blowing water or breaching and I never seem to be looking in the right direction.
This also reminds me, though, that sometimes we have to really believe in something in order to see it, because we are preoccupied in seeing that which we are programmed to see. This is especially true in our children. We have hundreds of parenting books telling us how to raise our children, and a competitive society where children are compared with one another from toddler-time on, and an education and employment system that rewards overachievers and ignores the rest of the bunch. I've spent seventeen maternal years looking for things that I didn't find in my own children, while unexpected things popped out at me, and I've had to adjust my focus every time this has happened. And, as my kids became teens, this re-focusing became the norm.
What I wish I'd done, what I wish I'd known and been strong enough to do, was to see what I believed deep down was there, and what deep down was important, rather than to see the superficial things that society told me to watch for, to search for those things that were supposed to be there, according (once again) to society.
I saw lackluster grades. I saw defiance.I saw priorities that didn't match up to mine. I saw a lot of things that weren't on my original agenda, that weren't in the "perfect parenting" books, that weren't showing up in the lives of my neighbors' kids.
I didn't believe, enough, in my kids to see what was underneath all that. And I didn't believe, enough, in my own convictions to turn my back on society's ideas and look for what I should have been looking for all along.
On a recent trip to Utah, we were looking for pictographs in the red rock. Every shadow, every marking, seemed to represent something to me but not to anyone else.
"Come on, let's get going," they'd say to me. But I'd stand and stare at those rocks just a few minutes more because I believed something was there that we'd missed. Something important; maybe not as important as reservations or meeting times or other societal things, but important to me. And eventually what I'd believed in became clear. The images on those rock walls were really there, and although it might not matter to 99% of the population, it made a difference to me and, more importantly, to the individuals that created the artwork in the first place.
With all the pressures on us today, it's hard to know what to believe in. But what I've learned is that deep down I do know, and I have to trust myself to believe in order to see what really needs to be seen. My hope is that it's not too late.