what do you see?

I was reading a story last night about a primary school teacher in Alaska, who one day turned to the vast expanse of snow outside the window and asked her class, ‘what colour is it?’ The class — of mostly 10 year olds– said rather smugly, ‘it’s white, Miss.’ But she would have none of it. She looked at the snow, and said, ‘what colour is it?’. And it took a long time before someone realised that it was in fact blue (and purple, and grey, and black…).

The original, better told story is below the fold.

Then this morning a good friend emailed me after reading the blog for the first time. This friend has known me since I was twelve. She’s been a part of a lot of key transitions in my life. And yet, she read the blog and saw things that surprised her. It wasn’t the ‘me’ she was used to.

And it made me wonder — how often do we miss what’s right in front of our eyes with the people we care about? How often do we get used to thinking that the snow is white, so that we never notice if the light changes and it becomes blue or purple or grey?

And how often do we encourage the idea that the snow is white, because it’s easier than explaining how the shades of blue came about, or learning how to see each other again when the light has shifted.

There’s an odd dynamic to long standing friendship — the people who’ve known us the longest, but who aren’t always around enough to see who we have become. When I think about my closest friends, my oldest friends, I have no doubt that they know me. They can see to the heart of things quickly, understand mood and nuance, and strip away any mask that appears. Maybe it’s that cutting to the core of things that makes the appreciation of changing hues difficult.

And in the end, I wonder which is more true:
is the snow white or blue?

The original story is below.

Ken Kaisch, Finding God:

Let’s start where it began for me. I was sitting in the fifth grate at Hunter Elementary School in Fairbanks, Alaska. Late on a midwinter afternoon…Mrs Stohl asked the class a simple question. She pointed to the large expanse of window and asked us to look at the snow with her. “Class,” she asked, “what color is the snow out there?” We looked at each other with knowing looks of smart-aleck fifth graders everywhere and replied, “The snow is white, Mrs Stohl. Can’t you see?”

Remember now, it is midwinter in Fairbanks. The sun comes up around eleven o’clock in the morning, a disk of cheerless orange which barely clears the southern horizon, and sets aroudn two o’clock in the afternoon. …As we looked out tat the now on the playground, she asked again, “what color is the snow out there?”

This time, we actually looked at it, with our smug, know-it-all attitudes beginning to crack a bit around the edges. “White,” we all said in exasperation. “The snow is white! Look for yourself, Mrs Stohl.” She replied, “I am looking, and it is not white.”

Mrs Stohl was an exceptional teacher…She was kind and fair and openhearted… But what do you do when you’re ten years old and the teacher you adore looks out at a snowdrift that you know is white and says, “The snow isn’t white”?

As we puzzled on this in stunned silence, Linda, the quiet girl… spoke up softly. “You’re right, Mrs. Stohl, it isn’t white, it’s blue.”

At that moment it was as if we were in the crowd when the little boy whispered that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. The silence was incredibly intense and vibrant. And then, as if scales literally had fallen from our eyes, we all saw the snow.

2 thoughts on “what do you see?”

  1. There are two points which strike me in this post. The first, and most obvious, is the tendency to take the easy answers. In some form or another we all encounter that each day. In this country the concept of the mega-church flourishes. In Memphis there is one with 25,000+ members. These seem to do so well because among other things, they offer what I consider easy answers to all questions. There is little encouragement to work towards a personal conclusion, rather all answers are provided, and this plays easily into the cultures desire for the easy fix, the quick answer. In these churches defense, they offer an amazing array of opportunities for community. This too though often becomes exclusionary.

    The other piece of this post which struck me is in the last paragraph of the writer (not the story). Those people that I consider my closest friends live thousands of miles away and yet, the times that we can see each other or talk we come to a place quickly of immediate knowing. I believe that there are bonds between our closest friends which render time and distance moot.

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