Monday, November 28, 2011

I Spy (from the Cleveland Post June 16, 2011)

Summer vacation is here! Time to pack the young 'uns in the car and hit the road for adventure, fun and a visit to Grandma's.

And to while away the time, a challenging game of "I Spy," the most life-shaping game I ever played.

I was not always very good at it. In fact, I was routinely whomped by my oldest brother, never mind that he was two years younger than I.

That boy had the keenest eyesight of anyone I have ever known. "I spy something blue" never referred to something so obvious as the sky. Oh, no. More likely it was the tiny blue dot indicating 'cooling' on the air conditioning control on the dash of the car. It was maddening.

His most impressive feat occurred after our "I spy" days had past. We were driving along a country highway and passed an overgrown back yard with a tarp-covered lump up against the fence. The lump had an exposed tail light that caught his eye. That was enough for him to ID it as a 1966 Dodge Charger, without letting up on the accelerator.

His eye didn't just catch mechanical details. Even as a kid, he was a gifted naturalist. Shark's teeth seemed to materialize on the beach exclusively before his eyes, even though my eyes scanned the same stretch of sand. Wading through the creek together, he could pick out frogs and lizards from the vegetation they sought for protection. Literally close enough to bite me, I would never have seen them if he hadn't pointed them out.

He'd show me, and then I would see. Don't just look for the frog but for the places the frog likes to be. I would keep that in mind and look some more, but by then he'd be on to something else: while I was looking for frogs, he'd have spotted a crayfish. I could not keep up.

But I wanted to. Rivalry is not the only thread binding sibling relationships. Yes, I wanted to hold my own in "I Spy" and find as many sharks' teeth on the beach. But there was more to it than that. Our relationship made his curiosity contagious and gave his interests clout. My attachment to him meant his interests had a claim on me.

I see this in my own children. My son isn't particularly fond of horses but he knows his sister is and so keeps an eye out on her behalf. Similarly, she doesn't like trains but he does and so she notices rail cars on a siding and can be counted on to make disdainful remarks about Thomas merchandise they see in a store (he has outgrown Thomas, you see, and doesn't like to be reminded of his childish past).

This kind of relationship changes how you see the world. Not only does it expand the number of things you see when you look, it broadens the nature of those things. The search for wildlife comes to include the search for signs of wildlife.

But even before that, it modifies your attitude. Yours is not the only self on your mind as you peer out at the world. If that other self sees the world differently, that will change what you see. That is the first step away from accepting the world as described by others and towards letting world reveal itself to you.

Even as a kid, I was a heavy reader, so this was a big (if unnoticed) step. To fairy tales, fantasy and history (fiction and non), I added muscle cars and fishing and bluegrass (that one took a while) and various branches of marine science.

Interestingly, bluegrass lead me to my husband. We have been adding to each other's perspective for a number of years now.

So, if you find yourself stuck in the car on a long trip, try a game of "I spy" to pass the time. It could change your life.

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