Life jolts us. It’s a reminder we’re mostly not in charge. Take the pandemic as one glaring example. In my much smaller world, I recently went to the dermatologist for what I thought was a routine, minor procedure for squamous cell cancer. I walked out with 27 stitches down the right side of my face. This is sure to morph into a long, ugly scar. So, I’m probably the only one on the planet who still wants to wear a mask.
When I told my son Drew about it, he said “No big deal mom! Look at Seal. He never let his scars get him down.” And then he proceeded to sing some of Kiss From A Rose. Even his sweet serenade wasn’t working.
While still living, David Foster Wallace, the brilliant, troubled writer gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College. He urged the students to try a “perspective switch.” He said, (and I’m rephrasing) that for our own sanity, it helps to think of the other guy when you’re caught up in yourself. He used the example of driving and getting ticked off because someone cuts you off and you think: Moron! Instead, in that moment, take a breath (he didn’t say that, but I do) and try to see it differently. Maybe you were in his way. Maybe he had to make that move because he has a sick or injured child in his car, and he’s rushing to the hospital. Maybe he’s having a worse day than you are.
Perspective switch is like, instead of taking a selfie, you aim the camera out. For me, that means looking at my scar with a little distance. Most of us carry scars, even if other people can’t see them. I can choose to look at my scars, both those visible and invisible, as battle scars. I took action and beat the cancer. I took action on my addiction and joined recovery.
Maybe with a perspective switch, or attitude adjustment, we can go even further and stop constantly beating ourselves up for…in my case, not wearing enough sunscreen. Fill in the blank. Not being a patient enough parent. Not being a supportive enough partner. These things that make us human. The author Louise Hay said: “You’ve been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
How about I approve of my scar? OK, that’s just too much to ask of me, but I can accept it. I don’t have to get lost in the pity party. It happened. That’s a perspective switch right there. Looking out with a little distance, I can see a horizon that’s well beyond the right side of my face.
This helps me to see you, and to remember that while we could slide during the pandemic, it’s time to re-engage in person with others. I’ll be honest, I have to take a few deep breaths thinking about that. Some of my friends are also anxious, like me. How will I talk to people? How will I dress my bottom half? Other friends can’t wait to jump back in. Some of us will tip-toe, and others will stride out, and that’s ok. They’re both ok, given we’ve just lived through the trauma of a pandemic.
So here comes summer, and a few of us have body parts other than a scar to worry about, like our post-COVID love handles and our really pale feet. When did my feet get to be so pale?
As for the mask, here’s my perspective switch: I’ll wear it for safety when needed, but I don’t have to hide behind it.