Do you remember the Magic Eye phenomenon? It was all the rage when my older daughter was at the end of her elementary school years. Specially-created pictures contained hidden images which would appear only if you looked at them “just so”. Book collections were wildly popular at Scholastic School Book Fairs.
I was terrible at perceiving the images, probably because the vision in my two eyes is wildly different. There was something a bit humbling about sitting around with a group of kids who are giggling because they can “see it” and you can’t. On the other hand, I can appreciate how fun it might be for kids that it’s the grown up who doesn’t get it.
A few times I was actually able to get my eyes out of focus “just right” and an image appeared. But the experience wasn’t what I had expected. I had anticipated that I would magically be able to see something within the multiple layers of background patterns. Instead, what happened was that the image rose off of the page towards me and floated in mid-air.
All of this is but a prelude to describe the process by which I look for topics every day for the blog. I read the news and I scroll through social media, I check my email, and I turn and sift, shaking out the chaff, looking for something that sparkles. Most days, as I am winnowing through all that information, an idea rises off the page and floats towards me.
But not always.
On those days I am inclined to grumble that there is nothing to write about. Of course that’s probably not true. It’s more likely that, for whatever reason, my brain is not perceiving the stories that are right there in front of me.
The brain is the Magic Eye. Perhaps you already knew that.
It occurred to me this morning that there are important issues we should be grappling with locally which, for some people, don’t “rise off the page” for them. Things like how SRO’s harm Black and Brown students, the greater health risks of COVID on the poor, lack of affordable housing, educational equity, LGBTQ representation. Article after article streams by our eyes but, if our brains are not in a receptive state, we won’t see anything. Nothing penetrates. We go on as before, unchanged.
What makes the difference? What enables us to have that “magic” experience where the idea rises up off the page towards us?
Sometimes I think it is novelty. If the subject is presented in a way we haven’t seen before, we are more likely to give it a chance, to let it in. (That’s the sparkle.) Mostly I think that we are changed more by something that causes us to feel a personal connection of some sort - - with someone or something - - that causes us to care.
This can be difficult in a culture where many are content to believe that if something isn’t a problem for them, then it just isn’t a problem. At all. If that’s your default setting, your life is gloriously uncomplicated. Until something happens to you.
The biggest change that has happened in my mind’s eye over the last few years has been in the area of racial equity and inclusion. I’m sure that change was years in the making, but the way it has transformed my worldview feels sudden in some ways. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it. There’s no going back. It changes how I evaluate all news stories, how I consume all media, how I post and who I follow on Facebook and Twitter, who I vote for.
February is Black History Month. How much content will speed before our eyes without connecting? How many years did I let it go by me, thinking my knowledge and attitudes were well-meaning and I didn’t need educating? Students are observing Black Lives Matter at School this week. Some may connect with a story or an experience that will have a meaningful impact on the rest of their lives. Others will be told by their parents, “That doesn’t apply to us.”
It all comes down to what reaches us, what makes us care. To be honest, I owe so much to local friends and advocates who kept on (and keep on) bearing witness and calling out the uncomfortable truths in our community. Their persistence (sometimes adamant and unrelenting) nurtured within me the connection that caused me to care.
We can be changed: but our eyes must be opened. That isn’t magic, really. It’s all in allowing our brains do what they were meant to do.