Vocabulary lessons.

The 6th grader in this house has a new vocabulary list this first week back after Christmas break. She studied it last evening, and so this morning, on our pre-dawn drive across town to her school, I asked her about the new words, knowing she’ll have a vocabulary quiz at week’s end.

“Versatile,” she said. “Jostled.”

I smiled as she told me in her own words what these new-to-her words meant. And then she said, “Perspective.”

I stopped her cold, with “Oh Mads! That’s a great word! And a really important one!”

I could tell that 1) she thought I was little cray having gotten so excited about a word before the sun was even considering rising, and 2) she was not interested in my excitement in her still-adjusting-to-back-at-school fog.

So I (likely wisely) let it go. But I’ll come back to it with her one day.

Because perspective is a mighty, mighty thing.

Perspective is often so deeply personal. Whatever baggage you’ve got (and dear ones, we all have baggage–the trick is to keep it contained, preferably in a carry-on size rolling bag that can be discreetly put aside now and then and not a steamer trunk headed to Hogwarts…), whatever life experience it is you bring to the table, cannot help but shape how you see the world. I am convinced that so much of what we struggle with in our families, in our communities, in our churches, in our nation, hell, certainly in our world boils down to our inability (or flat-out refusal) to see a challenge or opportunity from the perspective of another.

Anyone who knows me well at all knows that my favorite movie of all time is The Breakfast Club. It was on network TV last night–which was the very best surprise at the end of a long day, even if it was severely edited for language. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve watched it, and I caught it about 20 minutes before my favorite scene–the one where the barriers finally start being torn down between the movie’s five main characters and they begin to discover how very alike they are–all of them bizarre and anxious and afraid and jacked-up by various forms of peer pressure. Predictable, I suppose, for a John Hughes teen-angst movie–but no less profound in its exploration of what it means to be caught between your inside and your outside, unable to see anyone else’s truth because you are trying so desperately to hold on to some image of normal to present to the world. Five vastly different perspectives just trying to hold on…when their hope really lies in discovering what makes them all not so different after all.

Perspective can get lost so easily. This happens to me when I am tired. Or hangry. Or (sweet Jesus!) a combination of the two.

When I am tired I lose two things that it generally serves me well to keep close and active–my sense of humor and my capacity for seeing the big picture. Suddenly everything is awful and hopeless and I can see no way forward and I completely shut down and lose any additional bandwidth for any sort of problem-solving or conflict resolution or compassionate response to whatever I’m losing it over.

I believe with everything I am that our lives are just varying degrees of small roles–even if juicy and plot-affecting–on a much grander stage of human history and being. That said, my first drama teacher taught me that no matter how small your part might be, you play it well. As well as you are able. Because you never know when you might get to steal a scene and change the course of things.

Big picture. Tiny but crucial roles to play.

I also believe with everything I am that laughter is an even better medicine that we know, and that it should be used liberally, as often as possible, even if it sometimes born from a dark place inside you. Those who know me best will tell you that my humor can be pretty damn dark at times…but what I know is that it has in many ways saved me.

Comedy and tragedy are so very closely linked. Another lesson I learned from drama class.

And…perspective is more easily shifted than we often realize. There are things I would have risen up in all sorts of righteous indignation about when I was 20-something and thought I knew everything. Now that I am 40-something and think I probably know nothing at all, I am finally and blessedly learning that there is so much that just does not matter. So much we get bunged about that really is not worth our energy. So much we nitpick and argue and whine about that isn’t the real issue at all. So much meddling and judging and assuming…when we’d be far better off to simply accept that not everyone rolls like we do and acknowledge that every day, every single other person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Perspective. It’s a good word.

And as I’ve said, a mighty thing. I’m glad my girl is learning it early–far earlier than her mama did, that’s for sure. I pray she keeps it…sees the perspective of others…allows her own to be malleable as she grows and learns and experiences this awful/beautiful/terrifying/gracious life.

Some days, holding on to some sense of what perspective brings may in fact save her.

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