Much as I love a good mystery—print, ebook, or audio—and although in my hand the TV remote control is a crime-seeking missile programmed to land on any available true or fictional detective show, if I were involved in a crime in real-life, I would be of absolutely no use.
I have very limited powers of observation. As a witness, if called upon to describe what the bank robber looked like, or what kind of car the hit and run driver used, I would come up with nothing. I tend to move through life—or at least travel to my destinations—focused only on the road ahead. I’ve been taken to task many times by family and friends, who insist they waved at me with the vigor of someone waiting for rescue by a search plane, to no avail. Which is one indication that I’m an adequate looker, but not a very good see-er.
If it’s not straight ahead of me, there’s a good chance I won’t detect it. Sorry, officer I didn’t notice the arsonist setting fire to the building on the corner while I waited at the light. No, detective, I didn’t see a man in a yellow banana suit coming out of the bank with a bag full of money.
If required to work with a police sketch artist to come up with a composite picture of the villain who snatched my purse, I’d be stumped to try and recall, let alone describe, physical characteristics clearly. The end result would no doubt be a cross between an Etch-A-Sketch drawing and Mr. Potato Head. His hair? Umm, blondish. Eyes? Smallish. Nose? Big. Face shape? Not exactly round, but sort of. He had a mustache. No, wait, a beard. Well, you get the picture.
While my literal lack of attention to the world around me is lamentable, even more troubling is the realization that in a figurative sense, I often don’t see what is in front of me. Typically, if I encounter a receptionist, or a clerk, or a random person at the market who is brusque or impatient with me, I look at them as bad-tempered and rude. I rarely take the time to see what might lie underneath the offending behavior. If a friend is expressing her opinion, I may say that I “see” her point of view, but I’m really focusing on my own, and looking for an opening to push it forward.
The verb “to see” has many synonyms: detect, examine, contemplate, recognize, discern, take notice, observe, perceive, regard, view, eye, see, spot, witness, behold, and more. It’s an indication, I think, of how complex and layered the act of seeing is. Perhaps I’ve been thinking about that idea more lately, because I’ve been wending my way through a series of appointments and treatments to resolve my physical eye problems. But as my literal eyesight continues to improve, I hope to work on my metaphorical vision as well. Henry David Thoreau said it much better than I have:
♦It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ♦