Lucy's Newspaper Columns

Common Ground is a monthly newspaper column appearing in the New Hampshire Seacoast Newspapers.  Professional photographer Lucy also does the accompanying photographs.

From an airplane, the ponds and the earth appear to be moving at one speed and reflected clouds in another.

The Background is the Key

This column appeared on June 16, 2000

Were you ever fascinated with a mirror image of a room?

Did you wish you could enter that imaginary room, as Alice did in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass?

Something else happens in mirrors.  Walk quickly past one and notice how reflected objects move at varying speeds.  You'll notice that objects and people closer to the mirror appear to zip by more quickly than things at a distance.

We see something like this when looking from a low-flying airplane at reflections in still water.  On a recent early morning as a passenger in a small plane I noticed a striking effect.  On the surfaces of ponds reflecting sky and clouds, the reflected clouds appeared to be racing past, just beneath the ponds' glassy surfaces.  That is, the ponds and the earth appeared to be moving at one speed, the reflected clouds in another.  (Of course the plane, not the ponds, was moving, but this is the way it appears.)  It make me think of Teletubbies, little moving characters with faster-moving images on t.v. screens implanted in their bellies.

When speaking of reflections we would say, at least in physics class, that the reflected clouds are "farther away" from us than are the surfaces of the ponds.  That is, in optical language, when we stand five feet away from a flat mirror we say that the reflected image is five feet "behind" the mirror in terms of size and perspective.  In the same way those reflected clouds are as far "below" the pond surfaces as the real clouds are above it, so they and the earth move  past our eyes at different speeds.

In another example,  imagine you're driving a car along a tree-lined road, past a field.  In the distance is a water tower.  As the trees appear to zip by your car, the water tower stays within your sight for a longer time.  In other words, nearby objects trees appear to move by quickly while objects in the distance disappear more slowly.

We sighted people are accustomed to this apparent motion around us as we move; we don't often think about it, do we?  This is different for formerly blind people who have, as through surgery,  recently gained or regained sight.  These individuals often express amazement at the speed at which objects appear to speed past them, even as they walk slowly.

In this relative motion of life there's a nonvisual  equivalent, a parallel.  That's where Father's Day comes in.  In all of our daily experiences there's something, figuratively speaking, in the background.  Not all of us are fathers or mothers but we all nurture other people some of the time, and. Father's Day is a good time to think about nurturing.  What is in the background of our lives?  What sustains us, emotionally?  What positive things can we put into the background of the lives of children and adults whom we nurture?  When we provide consistent and caring support, isn't it a little like that water tower or those clouds, in that it stays in the person's background while other events speed by?

In a recent Sunday-morning service at Christ Church Episcopal in Exeter, Rev. John Denson talked, in a sermon, about a Philadelphia woman who had had a painful condition needing prompt surgery.  She had to endure a serious of postponements, however, for reasons including the absence of a surgeon-specialist and a severe ice storm in the Philadelphia area.  The result was that for this "urgent" surgery the woman then had to wait six days in pain and worry.  During this time, though, her friends, family, and the rector of her church visited and supported her.

When the day of the procedure finally came, yet another delay topped off the experience.  As the woman lay in the pre-op area awaiting the procedure, something delayed the surgeon an additional three hours.  When the man arrived and greeted her he looked frazzled.  "How do you feel?" he asked as she lay on the stretcher.

Her reply surprised him.  She answered, "I feel loved and protected."  She later told others that at this point the frazzled physician's facial expression and manner changed.  In this brief exchange and role reversal of sorts, the tension left the surgeon's face and he looked relaxed.

Among all the pain- and anxiety-provoking events in this woman's foreground during those six days, the support of her friends and her church had sustained her, as background.  Isn't this the kind of underlying support we try to give others, as fathers, mothers, other relatives, or friends?

A few years before my husband I had children we were visiting Joe and Joy, parents of four vivacious school-aged girls.  Joy commented, "Some people are constantly putting their children down, but we try to build them up.  If they don't get the love and confidence and stability they need at home, where are they going to get it and how are they going to deal with the world?"  This was hardly new wisdom, and Joy didn't present it as such, but her remark struck me at a time when my husband and I were looking ahead to our own parenthood.

My parents--my father who died in '91 and my mother who is alive and well at 96--offered me this kind of stability along with a cheerful consistency.  When one is growing up one's home life, and the attitudes of the nurturers in the home, whether negative or positive, provide the background against which one processes experience.

In this culture that values speed, I suggest we think about relative motion in connection with Father's Day.  What are the steady and slower-moving influences that we are providing, like the reflected sky in the still ponds, for those whom we nurture?  Experiences will certainly zip by them, be we can be their sky, their sustenance, or their anchors.

We live in a culture that values speed.  When we look out the windows of cars or plans and see objects moving at varying speeds, the ones in the background moving much more slowly, let's consider this as an analogy to what we put in the backgrounds of those whom we nurture through life.

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