How to make a complicated life feel a little simpler

(Photo source: Michelle Spencer via

I was walking yesterday at a local State Natural Area in Nashville – it was quiet and that full, early-summer green and smelled good.

This spot is a nature preserve—so you run across more sorts of creatures than you would on a walk in a neighborhood, and it seems many of the people who hike here have their eyes peeled for just such encounters.

A third or a fourth of the way in, I noticed a girl stopped ahead of me on the path—except she was coming from the other way.

She had stepped off to the side and was smiling as she looked toward the woods.

Because there’s wildlife out there—when you see someone paused and quiet, it usually means they’ve spotted something worth looking at and slowing down for—a deer, a wild turkey, a barred owl.

As I walked toward her I started trying to look backwards at a diagonal over my right shoulder—the direction she was looking—but I couldn’t see anything yet.

A couple was turning the corner from behind her, walking at a good pace until the woman, a few steps behind the man, got to the spot where the girl was and had almost her same perspective. Then she called for her husband to slow down, to come back, to turn around, to look.

Whatever they saw, it was important enough to cause now three people to stop.

As I was passing, I turned my head back again and, even though I mostly kept moving, I saw briefly what she saw—a young deer sipping water. I continued and turned this little almost-interaction over in my head.

It felt significant, even if I wasn’t sure how just yet.

I haven’t been able to put anything in writing lately, which makes me frantically scan every waking second of life for some clever, paradigm-shattering metaphor, most of which end up not, in fact, clever and don’t, in fact, benefit from my further expounding on them in a blank Word document.

Life is complicated.

By that I mean we aren’t individuals or communities made up of strictly fixed and tidy beliefs, values, identities, histories, influences, or even plain likes and dislikes. As much as it’s tempting to think so, and as much as it would be easier if it was so, this is just not the way life is.

Sometimes a metaphor helps us remember that the first step to handling all these differences with grace is, in fact, simple—even if how it gets worked out in the real world isn’t instantaneous or easy.

Sometimes you can’t see what your neighbor sees because you’re not standing where she is.

As I thought about the girl stopping to look at the deer, two metaphors floated up that I wanted to remember.

First, sometimes you can’t see what your neighbor sees because you’re not standing where she is.

Whether in the moment it was possible for any of the rest of us to see the view exactly in the way she was seeing it isn’t the point, at least not here, but rather it was a physical reminder that when two people are approaching the same reality from different vantage points, the scene they take in is not the same.

And maybe as good a starting point for humility as any is:

“From where I am, I can see that from where you are, you see something I can’t.”

This is confirmed each time I’ve walked up to someone’s door who lives across the street from me. It’s a difference of maybe fifteen feet from the familiar sidewalk on their side of the street, but somehow the whole scene, particularly my own home, looks different, even when the frame is shifted only ever so slightly.

Second, we’re better able to see the world from a new perspective when we are open to and even hoping to see something new.

When I walk into a situation knowing there are good things to behold—in a setting where I am willing to look side to side more than usual, where I know I’ll spot things that might make me wonder or think—I’m more likely to take extra time and patience to deepen my understanding of the world around me.

I know I’d benefit from taking one or both of these approaches more often than just when I’m within the boundaries of a nature preserve.

This blog post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission. 

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