For What It’s Worth

Matter of perspective

An oft-overused saying today is, “It is what it is.” What “it is” is frequently not clear, but whatever it is we can be assured that most often “it” is a matter of perspective. We each see it from own particular viewpoint and interpretation. Thus, what may be desirable to us is not desirable to someone else or vice versa. A cliché way of expressing this is to say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

I was reminded of this during a morning social hour yesterday with fellow residents in the condo complex where we live. Each Wednesday morning for an hour or so, interested residents gather at the clubhouse for lively conversation and imbibing in some tasty goodies, most of them homemade. Sometimes, we enjoy word games, but mostly we just converse, sharing stories and personal observations. Since all of us are senior citizens, except for some family members who may be visiting the group, most of our story exchanges involve reminiscing or remembering when. That just seems to be a natural part of getting old.

At one time, probably not very long ago, you would have been hard pressed to convince me that I would be part of such a group or that I would enjoy it. To my own surprise, I have found the sessions to be fun, and I look forward to them. Each week, someone serves as sort of a moderator and directs the word game or chooses a topic for discussion and coordinates the storytelling that follows.

This morning, we focused primarily on telling stories about our most unusual or memorable Christmas. Then, someone mentioned that Sunday had been Dec. 7, a day to remember Pearl Harbor, and the question was asked, “Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about the attack?”

Several are old enough to have some specific memories of where they were and what they were doing. At almost 2 years old, I was not old enough at the time to have a clear or specific remembrance of that day. However, when my dad was drafted, I was old enough to have a memory of his leaving on a train and my mother crying. That is my initial memory of her crying, and I think that is why it is something I remember.

Part of the shared memories of Christmas included observations from the majority of us that our families were not moneyed and thus Christmas was not a time of multiple or expensive toys and the like. Aside from receiving oranges and apples in our stockings, we sometimes received clothing made by our mothers. For one resident, that recalled to mind a non-Christmas story he had about shirts his mother had made for him.

Feed sacks and other materials were used by our mothers to make shirts, blouses, etc. In this instance, the resident said that when he went off to college, his wardrobe included a shirt his mother had sewed for him. Although she thought it was just a passing fad, she made the shirt with a button-down collar to please him. At college, he had a friend whose family was wealthy enough for him to have brand name, store-bought shirts. The friend regularly commented on our resident’s shirt and asked what brand it was. Somewhat embarrassed that it was a homemade shirt, the resident avoided a direct answer until one day the friend reached out, grabbed the shirt collar in the back, and turned it up to read the label.

“You’re not wearing a regular shirt,” he exclaimed in surprise and admiration. “That’s a custom-made shirt!” The resident then revealed that his mother had made the shirt.

He smiled as he told us the story, and we all laughed.

“I was wearing a custom-made shirt, but had never thought about it that way,” he said. “Interesting, isn’t it, how we see things differently?”

Indeed, it is. It’s a matter of perspective. For one young man, the shirt was something his mother had made him, not an expensive, store-bought shirt. For the other man, accustomed to wearing shirts bought off the rack at a clothing store, having a shirt made especially to fit you was having a custom-made shirt. Quite an elevation in status, huh?

As I listened to the story, I remembered how many shirts I had worn that my mom had made and how I could hardly wait until I was able to buy shirts with a name-brand label in the collar. And all the time I was wearing custom-made shirts.

It probably behooves all of us to keep in mind that the way we view life, the way we view our circumstances, the way we view the actions of others, the way we view so many things is a matter of perspective.

We need to be careful when we think, “It is what it is,” because “what it is” may be a custom-made shirt, not the store-bought shirt it appears to be from our perspective.

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8 Responses to For What It’s Worth

  1. Jamie Rench says:

    Thanks for the post! What a great reminder of keeping the right things in perspective and being thankful for our many, many blessings!!

  2. osucowgirl says:

    Harry, thank you for sharing such a wonderful perspective.

  3. Hubert says:

    This is one of your better comments. I have to say I was disappointed with the lack of temperance this Dec. 7th. And yeah, mom was a great seamstress. She was a great a lot of things, Carter not being among them.

  4. Cindy says:

    “Custom-made” — I love it!

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