“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.”
― Charlie Chaplin
I heard it said once that you can tell New Yorkers and tourists apart by the direction they’re looking as they walk through the city streets. New Yorkers have their eyes locked on the sidewalk a few steps ahead of them. Tourists, on the other hand, mosey along with their eyes turned towards the rooftops.
This could be seen in practical terms: New Yorkers typically have “somewhere to be,” so they have to walk quickly and be aware of their immediate surroundings. Tourists are here on leisure time; they’re able to slow down, relax, and soak in the sights. But I find myself tending towards the New Yorker frame of mind so often that, even when I have nowhere to be, my eyes are fixed downwards as I shuffle through the streets. Only recently have I made a point of looking up during my pedestrian travels. The new perspective is lush with reward: the intricacies of architecture, the curiosities of street culture, and the exhilarating mystery of the open sky. And this hasn’t been my only change of perspective, of late.
I fall under the ISTJ personality type, which means (among other things) that I tend to expect the worst in most scenarios, real or imagined. On top of that, since last year I’ve been dealing with some mild anxiety issues. All this to say that even when I’m having a good day, my brain is working overtime to detect a masked evil or impending catastrophe. While I like to think that this tendency helps keep me prepared, it also wears me out. It’s tiresome to be in a perpetual state of worry.
This tendency makes it especially important for me to stay focused on the positive. And, despite my proclivity for pessimism, it’s clear to me that there’s so much to be positive about. I’m receiving higher education (a blessing in itself) at an institution that fits me like a glove. I’m privileged to live in one of the greatest cities in the world. I’m supported by a loving family and incredible friends. The life I’ve been given is so far beyond what I deserve. Yet despite all this, my gaze is periodically drawn to the sidewalk.
I think everyone deals with this; it’s easy to be distracted by the many concerns of everyday life. But they end up seeming rather petty when juxtaposed with the particular blessings of living in an advanced and democratized society. An even greater source of perspective emerges from knowledge of the true struggles many endure day-to-day in tormented regions of our world.
In one of A.A. Milne’s familiar tales, Winnie the Poo asks Piglet what day it is. “It’s today,” Piglet squeaks in reply. “My favorite day,” Poo replies. I don’t think I’m capable of Poo’s tireless optimism, but I can appreciate the rationalistic approach of Eeyore, who in a different tale mourns gloomily that “it’s snowing still.”
“So it is,” replies Christopher Robin.
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
There’s no quick fix to my sidewalk-oriented personality. I’m an Eeyore, whether I like it or not – but even Eeyore can look on the bright side if he tries hard enough. I just need to keep two things in mind as often as possible: I’m more blessed than I deserve, and there are many who deserve more. It’s so easy to let my gaze drift downwards. But when I do, I miss out. When I make an effort to keep an upward frame of thought, I gain a perspective as refreshing as it is new – and, hopefully, just as enlightening.