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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Change of Perspective

North 30th Street in Tacoma, on a sunny spring day, feels like the world's longest playground slide. If not for realities like traffic and pedestrians I could lose myself in the panorama of sea, land, and sky, the fantasy of an open road and a fortunate failure of brakes. I can imagine the sensation of sliding downhill in a blur, yelling "Yahoo!" until I skidded right through Old Town and finally splashed into Commencement Bay. But if I had to walk up that hill it would look a lot different to me.

That view from the top, heading east, is part of my perspective. I know this city from familiar angles. I know its different neighborhoods, nice and not-so-nice, the downtown, the architecture, industrial areas, parks and pretty front yards. Seen from my usual routes it holds no surprises. I know it in all its grittiness and glory. Or at least I thought I did.

In the same self-confident way we believe we know our friends, our family and its history, what living in America is like, and what "normal" means. Our expectations when it comes to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness feel reasonable and deserved. But what is the real picture? It all depends on your vantage point.

Yesterday, while doing research for an article, I spoke to people from several local agencies that run or are involved with food banks. I learned two things. One is that everyday, all around me, other human beings including children and the elderly go hungry or face the risk of hunger. I also learned that there are caring people who wake up every morning determined to keep that from happening. But if our perspective comes from relative comfort and security problems, like hunger can be invisible to us.

Last Sunday I sailed aboard the tall ship ADVENTURESS on Commencement Bay. I'm not accustomed to looking at Tacoma from the water and it made me realize how much of what surrounds us we just don't see. The view of the city from that perspective charmed me in a new way. While driving the streets you don't appreciate how many old trees still grow in Tacoma, or how nineteenth century buildings and the graceful curve of a modern highway can be at peace with each other like different generations of a family around a dinner table. It all looked so different from the water side.

So do we really know our world, our neighbors, or our country? What do words like freedom, oppression, lucky, unlucky, young, old, rich, or poor really mean? It all depends on where you stand. Consider looking at things from a different perspective. You might be surprised by what you learn.

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