One of the aspects of writing I adore is the gift of perspective. The facts of a story can drastically be altered by mere observer. Take for example the following:
Scene: a restaurant, a couple in their 30’s sits across from each other
POV of observer:
The woman slides a gold band across the table. The man holds his head down and sighs. He takes the ring and puts it in his back pocket.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Me, too,” she says, her eyes shiny with unshed tears.
POV of woman:
I’m pregnant and the almost stranger sitting across from me is the father. It’s why he proposed last night, offering up a lifetime together the way someone decides to put extra toppings on their pizza—spontaneous and without much thought.
Yeah, I accepted. Not because I loved the guy or even liked him. I said yes simply because fear eclipsed judgement, because the idea of motherhood solo or an abortion both felt impossible.
When I slide the flimsy band (like something out of a Cracker Jack box) across the table at him, the relief on his face is palpable.
“I’m sorry,” he says—a white lie—one that renders him unable to make eye contact.
“Me, too.” I’m sorry I didn’t insist we use condoms. Sorry I didn’t know you for more than one night. Sorry that I have lived three decades on earth and still can’t behave like an adult.
I feel like a trapped dog. What was I thinking?? How is It I can run legal cases with finesse but can’t think straight when it comes to a hot woman?!
She asked to meet, so here we are, her puppy eyes haunted looking. (Was this an early sign of pregnancy?) She plays with the tin band I gave her as a quasi-promise ring.
When she slides the ring off and across the table at me, I feel like the cage to my kennel is lifting. I’m getting out of here! I’m getting another chance!!!
“I’m sorry,” I say. Guilt and relief flood through my veins in equal measure.
“Me, too” she says.
Only she doesn’t seem sorry. Her eyes look shiny with a relief that, just moments before, mirrored mine. And yet, the idea of the life inside of her not happening makes the invisible hairs on the back of my neck stand up in cold fear.
There you have it, three different perspectives on one moment in time. And they are all accurate!
My dear friend, Steve Bernstein (author of STORIES FROM THE STOOP) recently reminded me of the storytelling layers or perspectives in fiction as well as life. Whether we are crafting a tale on the page or forming one in our real lives, we need to be cognizant of the story we and others are potentially perceiving.
So, the next time you find yourself angry or emotional about something someone did, consider the potential alternate narrative they might be telling. They might be the woman, man, or observer in the “restaurant” of your life story. When we give the gift of an alternate perspective for ourselves as well as others, we are more likely to find compassion and a greater sense of inner peace.