Seeing Life From a New Perspective
by Deborah Straw
The American Indian proverb, "Don’t
judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his
moccasins," speaks volumes to me at this middle
point in my life. I try to treat everyone -- my college
students, husband, elderly mother, our dog and cats --
as if I were them for a short while. I attempt to be
fully present in the moment.
Ever since September 11, my students at a community
college, overall, have been more anxious, more
depressed, less light-hearted. Many are unemployed;
several are single mothers. They do not feel a lot of
hope about the future; they are afraid or don’t feel
able to follow their hearts.
We also have students with learning disabilities,
non-native speakers and adults with emotional or mental
disabilities. Because I have an affinity for
special-needs students, I often work independently with
them. During these sessions, I try to see what it’s
like inside their heads, inside their daily lives. I
recall how exciting and scary it was to be in college
and to be young, with most of my life before me. Even
though the world has changed considerably, for many
students a hope for the original version of the American
Dream still holds sway.
At home, I try to better understand my husband. We’ve
been married for 20 years and, as with all committed
relationships, we’ve been through many phases. A
frustrated artist, he has genuine talent and is
currently painting several large oil landscapes. Like so
many others in this economy, he was laid off four months
ago and can find no work. I am trying hard to fully
realize that there are few available professional jobs
in Vermont and that ageism is firmly at work in our
It’s so demoralizing not to be valued in the
workplace. So, I also try to get into his head and heart
and encourage his painting enthusiasm. Visual
inspiration, like literary inspiration, can be fleeting
-- you have to take advantage of it when it strikes.
This is being as soulful and compassionate as I can
be -- letting go of any preconceived traditional notions
I have about the husband being the provider and allowing
things to unfold as they will. I am learning to trust
that economic times will improve and that creative
solutions will emerge.
Now that my mother is living in senior housing a mile
down the road, I have to let her (at a drastically
slowed-down pace) re-learn her surroundings. I watch her
stumble with new activities and try to make new friends.
Seeing her frequently confused and frustrated is not
easy -- it makes me sad and nervous -- but she is
adjusting. Her life is becoming busier and I am becoming
more attentive to who she really is at this stage.
Clearly, it is not easy to leave your family home, give
up your car, not be able to visit old friends easily,
and slip into an entirely new community at 84. Mom is
still a feisty, energetic woman who has just made a more
major change than I have in several years, and I admire
her strength and resilience.
Finally, I try to treat all animals, including our
three companions, as if their needs mattered. What dog
wants to be left alone all day, even if inside on the
couch with the radio turned on? All of us need to walk
more. What cat doesn’t want to play part of each day?
What caged bird doesn’t want to be on your shoulder or
flying around the room--to be able to see life from a
new perspective? Non-human creatures communicate their
needs quite clearly if we are willing to watch and
listen. Wouldn’t I want these things if I were them?
Of course, we benefit, too, by listening. Spending more
time with animals always makes me feel better --
happier, calmer, more centered, even silly, sometimes.
The downside of all this nurturing is that I often
worry about others. My relationships are quite complex.
However, I believe the more fully we consider others’
souls, the more our capacity for understanding,
forgiveness, and love grows -- and, despite aging and
its losses, the more rewarding and full our lives
© Copyright 2002 Deborah Straw.
All Rights Reserved.
Deborah Straw of Burlington, Vermont, has been a published writer for 25
years. Her first book, Natural Wonders of the Florida Keys, an ecotourism
book, was published by Country Roads Press/NTC Contemporary Publishing
Group in August 1999. Why is Cancer Killing Our Pets? How You Can
Protect and Treat Your Animal Companion was published by Healing Arts
Press (an imprint of Inner Traditions International) in November 2000.
became the first Straw is also a widely published essayist and fiction
writer, with work in several anthologies. Besides being a writer, she
teaches writing and literature classes at Community College of Vermont,