Kansas Collection books

Looking is Not Seeing

boy with dirt on face and shirt

    "Grandma, I can't find it," I called up to her from the fruit cellar.

    "It's right there on the bottom shelf," she answered back.

    "No, it isn't," I argued.

    "Well, look again.  It has to be right there," she said.

    "I did look again.  It's just not there on the bottom shelf."

    About that time Grandma appeared on the top step, wiping her hands on her apron.  She hurried down the stone steps to the fruit cellar where the potatoes, apples and onions were stored.  She groused at me, "I swear you can't see what's right in front of your face.  You are as bad as your grandpa."  She marched up to the wooden shelves where all the mason jars filled with fruit and vegetables were line up.  She hesitated for only a second and then grabbed up a gallon stone crock and said, "See, I told you it was right there."  "But Grandma, it was on the second shelf, not the bottom one like you said it was," I cried.  "Well, if it had been a snake it would have bitten you," she snorted.  With that she went back to her kitchen, where she was making pickles to store in the stone jar.

    After she left I felt just a bit put-upon.  Maybe Grandma was right.  Maybe I couldn't see what was right before my eyes.  I wondered why I couldn't see that old jar.  It had been sitting there ever since I could remember, but it was on the second shelf, not the bottom one.  I'd seen it so many times I'd forgotten it was there.  I was still smarting from her remarks when I dropped off to sleep that night.

    The next morning I drifted into the kitchen with my hair uncombed and looking pretty sleepy-headed.  The smell of bacon and eggs was tantalizing.  Grandma took one look at me and said, "Go look at yourself in the mirror and tell me what you see."  I did, and wasn't impressed with what I saw.  But my little red light blinked on and I tossed around what she had just said: "Go look and see. . ."  Yesterday I had looked and did not see what I was looking for.  Today I was looking and seeing a sleepy little boy.  I had perceived what I saw.  There must be a difference between looking and seeing.  But what was that difference?

    Later that fall, after school had started, I asked my teacher about the matter of looking but not seeing.  She was a very understanding teacher.  Her explanation was that I had not yet learned to closely observe what I saw.  I needed to develop my power of observation.  When I asked what observation meant she sent me to the dictionary.  There were several definitions for observation.  The most revealing one was "having keen perception."  So I looked up perception.  Webster said that perception was "a mental image --- quick accurate recognition of surrounding environment."  From this the only thing I was sure of was that I needed to know more about a lot of things.

    Some people seem to have a photographic mind.  They can look at something and then describe it in accurate detail at a later time.  Other people must review over and over what they wish to remember.  Then there are people who have trouble reasoning out problems by deduction.  If Grandma said that crock was on the bottom shelf, then that was the place to look for it, not on another shelf.  Scientists have studied the mind for centuries and they still can't explain how it works.

    Meanwhile, you and I are stuck with this leaky old brain that sometimes functions but at other times leaves us dangling in midair searching for the right thought or word.  One thing I am sure about is that the human mind, or brain, is like other parts of the body.  It needs exercise to keep it healthy.  I've seen many friends and acquaintances retire from active work --- to do nothing.  They express the opinion that they have worked hard for retirement and they are entitied to do, or not do, whatever they please.

    I guess they are right, but to me a sedentary retirement of doing nothing is a shortcut to the grave.  When the mind and body no longer function actively they slowly deteriorate and are finally lost.  This is especially true of the mind.

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