You remember in the movie, National Treasure, when Nicholas Cage’s character, Benjamin Gates, found an ocular device invented by Benjamin Franklin to help the wearer see the hidden symbols on the back of the Declaration of Independence?
The different-colored lenses could be flipped to allow the wearer to see different images. It was a cool design. So what in the world does this have to do with anything, you ask?
I’ve been thinking lately about how I look at the world. How we all look at the world. It seems to me those glasses are a great image for why we all tend to see things differently. We all have a set of these lenses that reflect our reality. My set includes (by default) Caucasian, but also female, Irish, adoptee, lesbian, spouse, physical therapist. When I see news stories, read books, watch movies, I do all those things through the prism of my particular set of lenses. Each of us does. Your set might include: mom, Jew, Latina, teacher – any combination of things that make up who you are.
I’ve been exchanging e-mails recently with another woman who was adopted. Her experience coming out as lesbian to her adoptive mother was a very traumatic one, one that drove her life in directions it most certainly would not have gone if her mother had been accepting. My mother, though we never spoke about my being gay, certainly knew. I grew up with her constantly telling me I was something only a mother could love (sarcasm is a sign of affection in our family). I never, ever doubted that I was loved for who I am. I just read an account in the Washington Post of a woman who was born in India and adopted into a white family in Massachusetts. Being adopted was a very painful thing for her, and she engaged in a lot of self-destructive behavior as a result. The three of us all have “adoptee” lenses in our set of glasses, but they show us three different views of that particular part of who we are.
When I watch movies or read books, my lesbian lenses are firmly in place. They color how I perceive romantic twists, how I look at the independence – or not – of the female characters. Now, please, I am NOT implying that there is any lesbian subtext to Frozen, but when Elsa sings “Let It Go”, what I hear is a coming out song. Totally apart from the fact that I have developed a crush on Elsa (anyone else?), I hear her, for the first time in her life, breaking free of constraints placed on her by her well-meaning parents to hide her true nature. And I love that she’s not with anyone at the end of the movie, because it leaves my imagination free to roam where it will.
When women complain that men don’t understand them and vice versa, when black people claim that whites can’t know what it’s like to be profiled by police, when police claim civilians can’t know what it’s like to face the possibility of an assault every time they stop someone, when soldiers coming back from a war say their families can’t know what they faced – they’re all right.
Is it any wonder, then, that it seems a hundred people can watch the same event unfold, and have a hundred different versions of what happened and why? We all look at events through our own individual set of lenses, and we – literally – don’t see the same things, because we all interpret events through our experiences.
If only we could exchange glasses and see life through someone else’s eyes… Oh, wait, we can. Kind of. That’s what books are for. And movies. They allow us to get into another character’s skin and see life through the lenses that make up their life. Let’s take advantage of that privilege. Read something that takes you outside your comfort zone, something that challenges what you thought you knew, something that allows you to see through someone else’s lenses.