What We Don’t See

One spring morning, I was at breakfast.

And so was the President of the United States.

There were many tables and security guards between us. But nonetheless, we broke bagels together.

Another man was there, too.

He was seated up on the dais with the President. Along with dignitaries. And the dignitaries’ bagels.

But unlike the dignitaries, the man wore sunglasses. Inside, in the presence of the Commander-in-Chief.

It seemed a bit churlish.

It seemed even more churlish that he kept them on. With no indication of taking them off when the President went to the microphone. And, as the President started to speak, the man took out a phone and began to dial.

My jaw dropped past China.

Who could be important enough to call? The President of the United States was already in the room.

Yet no one seemed fazed. Not the President. Not the dignitaries. Not the dignitaries’ bagels.

And then, the President turned to the sunglassed, cell-phoned man.

At last, I thought. Give him the old one-two, Mr. President. Cut that rogue down to size.

“And I’m delighted to have,” the President said, “Andrea Bocelli here from Italy.”

Oh my.

Andrea Bocelli. The Italian opera singer.

Who was wearing sunglasses because he is blind.

Who was using a hand-held translation device because he doesn’t speak much English.

Who was making one hasty-to-judge member of the audience eat her words.

Every day, the world gets shortchanged by people jumping to conclusions.

Good books with dull covers go unread. Sweet hearts with salty exteriors go unseen. And the full story is lost behind the soundbite.

I can be a speedy roadrunner. Quick to judge on surface and style. Not substance and soul. Which leaves me with a thinly sliced understanding of reality.

But no person, no experience can be chopped down to a thin slice.

Life is too substantial, too motley for that.

When he was 65, Willie Nelson penned a piece for Esquire called, “What I’ve Learned.”

“The same people who sing ‘Whiskey River’ at the show tonight,” he wrote, “also sing ‘Amazing Grace.’ When I was back teaching Sunday school, I used to teach the same people on Sunday mornings that I sang to on Saturday nights.”

We are “Whiskey River” and translation devices and much more wrapped into a remarkable whole.

A whole with a fuller story than any thin slice can capture.

Our stories are too long to be hastily judged.

And our lives are too short to spend quickly glimpsing.

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