Light is a metaphor easily recognized. We sense it on sunny mornings after stormy nights, wandering painting-lined gallery halls, skimming paragraphs of literature. It’s purity, it’s enlightenment, it’s a neuropsychological signal to breathe easier.
But light has a darker side, one we rarely find in cognitive association.
In its ability to illuminate, light bares all. Every cobweb-dusted corner, it reveals the bad with the good, sins brushed long ago underneath the rug, truths we never asked to hear. What we never open our eyes to, never takes place — at least in our heads. And suddenly, truth becomes something more frightening and complex than the kind exalted in the Arthurian code of chivalry.
If you had the choice, would you trade your perception of the world for the actual truth?
Back when I could still count my age on two hands, my perception of the world hinged upon every book I could get my fingers on. My rural childhood landscape was a backdrop for spies, villains, and occasionally a hound of the Baskervilles.
The rain hit the panes like birdshot on the afternoon I started rifling through my mother’s desk —
pulling a 1987 planner from the chaos of baby photographs and finger paintings. I flipped towards the back. I’d noticed the empty space in my mother’s bed where most of my friends had fathers, but it didn’t worry me much. I’d sneak into that empty space late at night when nightmares loomed too near, and a father seemed less real than monsters’ breath on my neck.
Until the afternoon I found my mother’s planner.
Scrawled across the space dedicated to December 9, she had written how my father visited me — us — in the hospital. She had written I was the most beautiful baby she’d ever laid eyes on. And she had written how my father left, after saying I looked like every other baby in the ward.
Every other one.
The truth felt too heavy to swallow. Too much for a little girl.
So I buried it deep in my chest and let it make me sick for years. What I wouldn’t give – even now – to have held onto that skewed adolescent perception just a moment longer.
As inhabitants of a post-modern society, our generation is wary of the word “truth,” and from an earthly perspective, we have every right to be. Vision is a distorted lens of past experience, personality, and assumption. What I call truth will always be slightly different from your definition.
So is there a single underlying truth out there? 1 Corinthians 13:12 affirms there is: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” We’ll only ever see the world through the darkest of stained glass, and we’ll never have access to that objective reality on this side of mortality.
Life is a kaleidoscope of fragmented personal perspectives.
I can remember those salty warm nights on the boardwalk.
Right after the spinning room and just before the maze of strobe lights, we’d walk the gamut of mirrors, our images shifting with steps. Too young to cringe at the distortions, we’d grin and pull our mouths out of shape and stick out our tongues – blue from cotton candy – as far as they’d go.
Frame after frame: short, tall, narrow, wide, flattering, unflattering. At the end of the row, I couldn’t remember exactly where I fell on the sliding scale of beauty. Were my tangled curls and light eyes enough to call me beautiful like my uncle said?
Or did I look like every other child?
Fifteen years later, not much has changed. I’ve only replaced the warped mirrors with faces, seeking my reflection in the eyes of family, friends, and strangers. To the dismissive bartender, I’m just another beer. To the guy who catches my eye on the bar stool, I’m worth nothing more than a one-night stand. And to my parents, I’m a disappointment.
But it’s in these moments we need to be the most conscious of perception —
a concept that’s very nature is destined to be subjective and flawed. I can’t trust my perception of the world, and I can’t believe in the world’s perception of me. Because we can only peer blindly through glass fogged with our own breath.
C.S. Lewis is famous for once saying, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end.” I know what he means, but I find it hard to believe when in my mother’s bedroom, at the end of the hall, I found a truth that left me uncomfortable for years. And if I’m honest, I have to say that truth still leaves me sometimes soundless and shy of eye contact.
Our world is full of inconvenient truths.
Sweatshop textiles made by little hands, corrupt politicians [from both sides of the bi-partisan system] with smiles that reach their eyes, progressive technology connecting us while leaving us feeling more and more alone. Truth never savors of sugar, but it heals just the same, regardless if you feel it within seconds or decades.
It’s taken me years to see how the truth within that one afternoon — written out across lined paper — has shaped me into a different sort of woman than the one that could have been. She would have stayed pretty normal. Her forehead would have remained unlined. And she would have played it safe.
But the question was never about safety. Truth cuts deeper than any lie. Of course it isn’t safe. But it’s good. And whether we believe it or not, we have to trust the truth is always good.
If you had the choice, would you trade your limited perception for the whole truth?
[Photo: Zach Dischner, Creative Commons]