Some time back I came to a stop second in line at a red light on my way home. Out of nowhere, the car ahead of me started to roll forward and drove away through the light. I pulled up in its place in a state of complete incredulity, but for the moment it seemed nothing more than one more “idiot driver” story.
As days passed I reconsidered. I noticed that this stoplight was placed fairly close to the next light and recalled that the car ahead of me pulled up far over the line. The two lights are not synced — the one farther ahead always turns green first. Being pulled up past the line, the driver in front of me might have seen the green light ahead without straining up to see the light above his car. He might have reasonably believed he was holding up traffic sitting at a green light and hastily drove away to cover his “mistake” as quickly as possible before being assaulted by horns. While he might be condemned for putting himself in the position of not being able to actually see the light, I believe it is possible that the driver had, and has, no idea that he ran that red light.
This entirely forgettable incident has fascinated me because, at least in my construction, it is an interesting illustration of perspective. Certainly it’s possible that the driver merely glanced side to side and decided to run the light. But how much more interesting if he seemed to do that from my angle, but from his he did nothing wrong. In that moment as he pulled away from me we existed in two divergent realities, mine true and his shrouded in a mist of ignorance. Still, in his world of ignorance he was traveling quickly to his destination, while I remained hindered by a limitation he wasn’t even capable of perceiving.
It makes me wonder how often we so grandly fail to see what is obvious from a slightly different perspective. Or how often what we find obvious takes on a different meaning to someone else. I am, of course, a strong advocate of walking. Yet when I see someone walking beside the busy, sidewalk-less parts of Route 5, my first thought is that it must be someone who doesn’t have a car or can’t drive and is forced out on foot by their unfortunate circumstances. Not that there isn’t evidence for this view. As I came to the corner of Center and Main on the morning of a recent snow storm, a man on foot, not poorly dressed, asked me for walking directions to Meriden. I responded by pointing and telling him he could walk “that way” until he gets to Route 5, then turn right and will “eventually” get to Meriden. But it’s a long way, at least five miles. He responded that he knew it was far, but the buses were not running in the snow.
Still, if that’s my first reaction, so much more must it be for someone who hasn’t walked more than the length of a parking lot in the last decade. And yet, one of my fond summer memories is the day I walked that great distance down Route 5 all the way to my aunt and uncle’s house, at a time when such a journey was still a life-expanding adventure. How many anonymous strangers pitied me then in the midst of a peak experience?
Take for example one random line from the journal quotes in the previous essay. In my entry about Memorial Day, I wrote “Art swept the driveway the entire time.” Reflect on this for a moment. Who is Art? How big was the driveway? What did the broom look like? We’re looking at the same words, but my understanding of them is shaped by the experience that stands behind the statement, while any reader’s understanding must be complete fabrication. Any conception someone who was not there might form of the situation would likely be pure fantasy compared to the objective truth of that summer day. As it happened, Art is my uncle. The driveway fit about four cars, and he used a push broom. He was sweeping primarily droppings from the trees, including the Maple tree that would lose a branch into our pool a few years later and subsequently get chopped down.
I do not subscribe to the fatalistic view that sometimes accompanies this train of thought. Rather what I find so interesting is that through compounding webs of colliding and overlapping misunderstandings, from this sentence up through the most derisive of topics, the world hums along and most of the time it just works out. Certainly massive misunderstandings are uncovered daily, but I’m sure that many more go unnoticed and unquestioned forever.
As fans of our favorite books we often have conflicted feelings about movie interpretations of the stories. We fear that the movies can take away more than they give. I know I’ve lost forever the Hogwarts and Hobbits of my first readings, and do not know if the brief pleasures of the movies were fair exchanges. There is one interesting aspect to consider though: these movies offer rare glimpses into another person’s imagination, a chance to see how that person has imagined the same places and characters you have only previously seen in your mind’s eye. When you remark on all they got “wrong,” realize that this may be the closest to synchronicity that two imaginations will ever be. Like that skewed perspective on the screen, those around you see all you say and do through the warped lens of their divergent experience.