190: Making Faces At The World (Thackeray)

                “The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
                -William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

                Thackeray reminds me that the way the world feels is usually a reflection of how I’ve been moving through it. When I’ve been sitting, helpless, watching things go by and hiding in entertainment, it all feels too big, too cruel, too fast, too overwhelming. When I’ve been walking through the forest it feels wide and beautiful, like tree limbs branching out and roots reaching under and beetles skittering along. When I’ve been writing, it feels like a story I’m helping make. When I’ve been teaching, it feels like a valley with the storm of another generation blowing in.
                Of course, some viewpoints help me see more and some make me see less, and the fact that one happens to be mine just now doesn’t mean it’s that important. Years and years ago, I heard a rabbi tell a story about someone trying to pray. They didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know what was right to say. They thought about it, and thought about it, and didn’t know, and then at last, with a shrug, they said, “God, if travelers are praying for clear skies and dry roads, and farmers are praying for rain, please listen to the farmers.”
                After I took introductory geology, I spent a year in stream beds, looking at rocks, breaking them open to watch the sparkle of the pristine minerals inside. I walked through a world of tectonic plates and magma chambers, of heat and pressure and more time than I could really understand. Last semester, when I got behind on grading, and afternoons became a blizzard of paper that I really wasn’t ready for, I felt snowed in at my desk: I didn’t work any more or less than I usually do, but I felt buried by the work. It lay around like drifts. When I walk out wanting something from the people I meet, then I feel them holding something back–as they probably should. I’m trying to take something from them. When I go out smiling and asking, laughing and giving, then I find people who could be new friends.
                The world looks a lot like how I’m looking at it. It gives me back a reflection of my face. I want to be mindful of the faces I tend to make.

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