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Epiphanies • August 2001

Reflections of Truth

©2001 Stuart Vail

It was 9:00 a.m. The bay was at high tide, and very calm—almost glassy. I was at a little guest cottage across Puget Sound from Seattle. With my elbows resting on the railing of the deck, I was enjoying the peacefulness of the bay with a morning cup of coffee. Suddenly, out of the North, a flock of geese noisily flew right past me. They were only about a foot above the water, and their reflections in the nearly-perfect mirror below made it seem as if there were twice as many geese. As they roared by I immediately focused on those reflections, whose wings were beating in counterpoint to the real wings above. Then they were gone.

It happened so fast. In a split second I had chosen to experience the flock from its reflection. Once committed, I had to stay with it. After the squawks of the geese had faded I was left with an inverted vision of the birds: strange creatures beating their wings upward. My experience was merely a reflection of reality, an inverted and not entirely true representation of what had transpired. But that was what I knew.

We are faced daily with such distortions and constantly have to interpret what we think we saw or heard. Films based on “true facts” offer their interpretations of reality, often becoming “untrue facts.” For improved ratings the murderess is upgraded to being young, blond, and sexy, when in fact the real culprit originally might have been a frumpy, middle-aged housewife. The screen version concocts a handsome lover, fast cars, and gratuitous sex. Don’t bore the public with just the facts; remember: Ratings!

This kind of distorted perspective happens quite often. Nightly news shows—competing against at least four other stations, all showing the same reports of rape, drive-by shootings, and governmental gerrymandering (did I mention “rape”?)—will enhance their versions of events to make them more sensational, streamlined, and salable. The version of reality that is presented to the public is “brought to you by” the quest-for-ratings-influenced station manager. Had we taken the time to read a more fact-oriented newspaper instead of being entertained by the “Reader’s Digest” condensed TV version, replete with commercials, perhaps we would have a more accurate concept of what is really happening in the world.

Some people will tend to listen to others “in the know” before forming their own understanding of reality. Sometimes their opinions are based on those of the last person with whom they just spoke, only to be changed with the next. A mere glance at the tabloid headline at the market leaves us with the “knowledge” that Madonna is pregnant with an alien’s baby (further reading deep inside the issue would reveal that the "alien" was her Brit husband). Rumors take on the form of Truth. Even in the face of Truth, rumors can hold forth as the Gospel because they have settled too comfortably in the mind of their host. Parasites can be hard to dislodge.

To persuade a certain senator to vote on a particular bill, his own interests have to be served, perhaps in votes for his bill which has a hidden rider that will fund an airstrip near his house and new asphalt for his district’s county roads. Distractions everywhere. Reality is disguised by the twisted reflections that are provided to us.
We go through life making daily choices of what to believe and which versions of reality we will embrace. Sometimes the choice is the wrong one, but we don’t necessarily know that. We cling to that speeding vision, and when it is gone it is all we know. We know it as the Truth, and proceed to parrot that Truth, right or wrong, to those around us.

We need to be able to see the geese for what they are. We need to see past the distracting reflections of Truth and discern what is real and what is not. One day the water may not be glassy. There will be no reflection—clear, or even blurry—to distract us from the real thing. And when Truth comes right up to stare us in the face, we may be unable to recognize it for what it really is.

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