Like it was yesterday, I can still recall that cold winter’s January morning when they took me out to Walden Pond. With snow on the ground and ice on the top of the water, I crunched the frozen turf near Concord, Massachusetts and walked slightly uphill toward the still-remaining stone outline of what once was Thoreau’s tiny cabin. At only five years of age, the boy Thoreau had first glimpsed the tiny lake and its welcoming woods and his life was shaped by the encounter. He (and many of us, for that matter) would be forever changed by the child’s seemingly innocent visit to a humble, but becoming, peasant-looking natural habitat. Thoreau would later describe it this way: "When I was five years old, I was brought from Boston to this pond, away in the country, — which was then but another name for the extended world for me. [...] That woodland vision for a long time made the drapery of my dreams."
The world beyond as “dream drapery.” What poetic imagery! What an apt descriptor! What a powerful reality!
For most of my father’s life, Lauderdale County, MS provided the drapery for his window on the world. The hangings gathered around and surrounding his world outlook were understandably somewhat provincial and often drawn over much of the window’s already limited view. I remember when, just before his death, we travelled together for my older son’s graduation in California. Because it was so far removed from his ordinary window on the world and his treasured window dressing, Pop called the Southwest Airlines flight from Mississippi to California “the trip of a lifetime.”
No matter how cosmopolitan or provincial our point of view, we all have dream draperies. All of us have some kind of “window dressing” on our weltanschauungen (world view). Each one of us looks out on a world, whether wide or narrow, that is shaped and, in some powerful ways, affected by whatever immediately surrounds it. Often, the drapery is emotional or psychological. As likely, it is also political, economic, cultural and ethnic. We tend to view the world in light of what we have come to accept as customary and limited; our perspective is defined by what we perceive to be its outer edges. Our hopes and dreams are focused largely by what has come to surround our outlook.
Some have been known to belittle “window dressing,” as if it is of little consequence. My sense, to the contrary, is that, in this case, the draperies with which and by which our culture and experience have caused us to frame our world-view are most influential. One of life’s big challenges is to get close to our personal draperies and to push them back, allowing us a wider view of an even wider world. Of course, there is value in choosing to look out on the world from different windows, from others’ perspectives. But, before one moves to another window, a great beginning place is to pull back the drapes surrounding one’s own, personal “picture window.”
Do you “see”?