A few days ago, my daughter made a picture of my pastor on tin foil. We had gone to a fast food restaurant after the Sunday service, and her food came in a tin foil wrap. She gobbled down the chicken-and-cheese taco, folded and smoothed out the crinkled foil, and drew the face of our pastor with her plastic fork.
If I look at it from a certain angle, from a certain slant of light, it looks remarkably like him in the eyes. I catch a glimpse of his beard and nose, too. If you didn’t know better, you might see only folded up crinkled tin foil; but she saw things through a different set of eyes.
I saw trash. She saw a canvas, begging for an artist to create beauty from what we might otherwise discarded with leftover tortilla chips, bits of shredded cheese and lettuce, glops of salsa.
I’ve seen other people do this, too.
I’ve got a book of T-shirt transformations. Well known arts and crafts personalities contributed ideas for how to take a basic T-shirt, slice-and-dice it, sew, glue or tape it back together until they have something entirely different. Scarves, knit with turkey basters. Crocheted bath rugs and yoga mats. Lampshades, pillows, tote bags, kitchen curtains. Halter tops. A ping-pong ball necklace. Gym shorts. What I saw as a basic T-shirt was a playground for their imagination.
Back in college, I knew two brothers who had a broken down car. They needed a specific part to fix it—I don’t remember what it was—and so they had a friend drive them to the junkyard. For hours, they waded through junk metal and old tires. They were filthy, covered in suspicious-looking bugs, and smelled horrible—but they emerged triumphant, part in hand.
I’ve been guilty of looking at someone and quickly glancing away. They’re too big of a mess for me to handle, I think. In my very first graduate class, an older guy sat in the desk behind me.
His very first words were, “I’m getting a divorce.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Nah, don’t be,” he replied, “Should’ve done it years ago when she gave me a STD.”
I choked, and not just from the nicotine smell on his shirt. This was a guy who had ridden around the block more times than an ice cream truck in the summertime. Vietnam vet with post traumatic stress syndrome, ex-alcoholic, bipolar—I didn’t see this man as friendship material.
Sometimes he threw around obscenities. Sometimes it was uncomfortable for this sheltered, church going, Bible Belt girl to be around him. Sometimes I felt like I got more of an education from him than from the professors; trust me, I wouldn’t be quizzed on this material in my thesis defense.
But as a mutual classmate said, “He made you be his friend.” He grinned and everyone in the class had to smile, too. He had a unique, quirky perspective on life and literature. Once I got past the rough exterior and his sometimes offensive language, I made a friend.
It takes work. It takes a willingness to get messy. It takes imagination, ingenuity and inspiration. But there’s value in looking past the obvious—the trashy, junkyard-destined, external obvious—to see what potential lies within.
How do YOU try to look beyond the surface “messiness” in other people and see the potential in them?