“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
The day was a winter wonderland as our family drove through the country to a Christmas open house at a friend’s home. A fresh snowfall had left the trees, houses, and barns covered with a inch of magical white powder. The day was cold, but in the brilliant sunshine the snow sparkled across the fields and glittered as it wrapped the buildings and trees in it’s twinkling blanket. It was like driving through a Currier and Ives painting. At the open house, I babbled on about the wonder and beauty of our 30-minute drive through such an enchanted postcard scene. Another guest who just arrived from a 90-minute drive shut me up when he snarled, “Some winter wonderland! The slush and spray from the highway was constantly smearing our windshield. It drove me nuts. I hate driving in that crap.”
Which view is reality, the slush on the windshield or the winter wonderland beyond? They are both reality. Sometimes we’ll hear people say “he’s not living in the real world” or “that’s not reality.” But who’s view of “reality” are we talking about? Philosophers have argued for centuries that there is no objective reality, only perceptions. There’s my reality, your reality, and some else’s reality. Most so-called “facts” are open to interpretation and highly dependent upon what’s being read into the data. We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are. Which is why George Bernard Shaw advised, “Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”
It’s all about balance. I can “don’t worry, be happy,” whistle a merry tune, think positive, and focus only on the bright side of life. But if I ignore the slush on the windshield, I could end up in the ditch crushed against one of those wonderland trees with the magical snow burying my mangled body. Problems and “ugly realities” won’t go away by painting a happy face on them. But too often our problems overwhelm us. We let our problems trap us deep inside our own “reality rut.” As long as we’re stuck there, we can’t see out of the rut to the possibilities beyond. Given the festive season and a comfortable drive in the country, that day I could easily see beyond the slush on the windshield to the beauty of the winter wonderland beyond. I don’t do that often enough. It’s all too easy to focus on and curse the slush on the windshield. Dwelling on our problems rather than our possibilities comes all too naturally. We often expect the worst and then say “see, I told you that would happen” when it happens. Too often we choose to curse the darkness rather than light a candle.