Yesterday I posted a photo to Instagram. The last streetlights still shone as the sun rose behind the maple trees in Durham, New Hampshire. The sunrise sparked upwards, yellow and orange, splattering red out and up, and fading to gentle pink and blue. It occurred to me, even as I enjoyed a stunning sunrise unlike any I’d seen before, that our neighbors out west might perceive this fiery display as something to fear.
I suppose I’ve always been fascinated by how the same situation, event, video, or person can be perceived so differently depending on each person’s past experience. For example, there is a video playing on our local university’s home page. In it, smoke fills the air. People are screaming. The first time I saw the video, I watched horrified, wondering what terrible event had occurred over the weekend. With the second viewing I realized that it wasn’t smoke and screaming I was viewing. It was chalk dust and laughter as fans celebrated a football game kick-off.
But was my initial perception that far off? I asked several co-workers, all who say that they were at the football game that day and it was so much fun. Or they said, “Obviously, it’s a football game.” I’ve yet to find anybody who had the visceral reaction to this video that I had. Yet, look at war photos from overseas. Remember September 11, 2001.
The football game video still plays. I still avert my eyes.
Thirty some-odd years ago, I married. While planning our wedding Mass, my mother and I were discussing the final blessing. I had selected The Blessing of Aaron (Numbers 6:24-26). I wanted it sung using the same composition I had learned in my high school’s Glee Club. That rendition is similar to the one below, performed by the Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s Viking Choir.
~sigh~ ~so beautiful~
Mom wasn’t enamored with my choice. “You do know that Aaron was being blessed before he went to war,” she said. “Do you really think that it’s an appropriate blessing for a wedding?”
Now forget for a moment whether her interpretation of the passage is correct. It is what she believed. She perceived the blessing would invoke conflict.
I remember pondering her words. It saddened me to think the blessing’s peaceful lyrics were a battle-cry. Then it occurred to me, perhaps it was the perfect blessing for a marriage. My husband-to-be and I would commit “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.” We’d have each other’s backs. We’d stand side-by-side. In gratitude we’d accept all that the world offered and mourn all it would take away.
For me, The Blessing of Aaron wasn’t preparing us for marital conflict. Rather it blessed us as we joined forces, binding our lives together.
Powerful perception. Use with care.