Growing up, did you ever do one of those puzzles where you were shown a hyper-zoomed picture of an object or animal and you had to guess what it was?
It might be hard to recognize what you were looking at until you switch to the expanded answer. “Oh, it’s a butterfly.”
These extreme close-up photos do a good job of representing the perspective we typically have of our own lives, except instead of seeing a magnified area of a static image already captured, we focus on a small portion of an image we ‘re actively creating. Flashing through the daily crush of emergencies one thing after another, it’s like painting a canvas from which we constantly hold ourselves an inch away.
From this myopic position, it is difficult to recognize the beauty you have already deposited.
We often feel the strongest surges of gratitude when we look at things from afar: we appreciate our children in a new way when we listen to their teachers describe them; remember how spectacular our spouses look when they watch them chat with someone else; realizing how much our friends mean to us when we’re lying in our beds at night, while they’re lying in theirs.
A perpetually magnified perspective also makes it impossible to plot where you want the life-in-progress painting to go. What could have been a real masterpiece ends up with an incongruous jumble of brushstrokes.
From time to time, therefore, it is necessary to step away from the canvas and take a look at the big picture.
It is a step measured less by physical distance than by contemplative space. It is taken by carving out quiet moments of reflection where you consider how your life is going. And, in fact, also by reading biographies; because there’s something about seeing a bird’s-eye view of someone else’s life that allows you to take that artistically necessary point of view for yourself.