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The Vision Thing

Do you remember  “Magic Eye” images? They were these odd, abstract, poster-sized images that you could find in shopping mall kiosks across the country during the ’90s. The idea was that if you focused in the image in just the right way (“focused beyond” said the image makers) amazing 3D images would be revealed. A “Magic Eye” picture featured prominently in a running gag in one of my favorite movies, 1995′s Mallrats. Willam, one of the “rats” who inhabits the mall, has spent an entire week staring intently at a “Magic Eye” poster, desperately trying to see the hidden picture—a sailboat. “Today’s my day,” he says. “I brought a lunch and a soda, and I’m not leaving until I see this sailboat everyone’s talking about.” Every few minutes, the film cuts to Willam, standing in place and staring, as one mall patron or another walks by, casually glances at the picture for a second and exclaims, “Hey! A sailboat!” Willam grows angrier and more frustrated. In the end, Willam just can’t see the picture. Instead, he let’s loose with a primal scream of frustration and kicks over the display.

I’m with Willam. I never could see the pictures in those things (although I never kicked over a mall kiosk over it).

The human capacity to imagine a future—and to actively work toward it—is a lot like trying to see a Magic Eye picture. Everything beyond the horizon of right now is a blur. And yet, somehow we’re able to focus beyond the blur and call a picture into our minds. Sometimes, when we stand together in a community, we might even be able to see similar pictures, or pieces of the same picture. However, not everyone is going to see the same future. It’s guaranteed to happen. Nine out of ten see the sailboat. The rest see . . . who knows? What then? How do we maintain community when vision differs? Do we argue for our own picture? Do we try to see what another sees? Do we hold our tongue (like Good Ol’ Charlie Brown in the comic above)? Or do we kick the whole thing over in frustration?

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One Comment

  1. I guess I want to think that maybe we find out if there’s not also actually a balloon or a butterfly or a snake in the picture, too, if that’s what other people see. We look again. And again. There’s something really spiritually interesting about minority opinion, not in the sense that we are supposed to plan for a butterfly instead, but that it is harder and more beautiful work to ask if there is a place for that butterfly next to the sailboat, rather than just discarding it. Often, the minority speaks to something the rest of us can’t see–the needs of tradition, the importance of reason, the emphasis on the individual or some such thing. I think when we can allow ourselves to be changed by one another’s needs as individuals as well as a larger community then we come closer to that space we all want to be. Great read, John. Thanks.

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