This Magic Eye Moment
When I was a teenager Magic Eye posters were all the rage. I received a couple of them as gifts and was amazed at how we would stare, stare, stare at a jumbled mess and suddenly the image would pop out at us. The next time we looked at it we would see the hidden image right away – no lengthy looking required. Once you saw it, you couldn’t un-see it.
There have been a number of things in life that I have not been able to un-see. Images not of Mickey Mouse or the Empire State Building, but of people and things that changed the way I view humanity, my life and my role in the world.
I grew up on a farm in rural Iowa. Like John Cougar Mellencamp I was born in a small town, educated in a small town and seen it all in a small town. While I am extremely thankful for how I was raised, it was very homogenous. So many of these Magic Eye Moments happened for me after I started venturing out into the world, literally right off the farm.
My mom and I visited Hawaii when I was almost 18. My dad had just passed away and a family friend invited us out to visit him on Kauai. My first plane ride was from Rochester, MN to Chicago, and then Chicago to Honolulu. While we were walking down a street in Honolulu, a young girl sitting on a curb asked us if we could spare a quarter. She was probably my age or maybe just a little bit older.
Where I’m from there are no homeless people. I had never been begged from before. I of course knew about homelessness and once seen Toledo’s one and only homeless person (at the time) during a family trip to Ohio. But seeing that girl face to face, wondering what happened to her that she would be homeless at such a young age, was unexpected. I always thought homeless people were old men, down on their luck and maybe struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction. But I was wrong. I would never be able to un-see that young blonde girl and she changed the face of homeless in my mind.
Another Magic Eye Moment happened several years later when I went on a mission trip through my church to Cochabamba, Bolivia. Our team was helping renovate an old building to become a free hospital for the area’s poor. The building was home to a family of squatters. The mission was happy to let them continue to live there during construction and we got to know them a little bit during our time there.
The women spent most of their day preparing meals which were all cooked over an open flame in a kettle outside the back door. Everyone slept in that rickety old building with next to no possessions, merely surviving day by day. There were two shy little girls in the family. What chance did they have for a better life? By this time I had been through some pretty difficult times myself, and I thought I had seen poverty. But I was wrong. No matter how broke I was, I never impoverished. I always had the opportunity all around me to improve my circumstances. I could never un-see my treasure of good fortune or their reality of struggle. This family changed the face of poverty for me.
Another significant Magic Eye Moment occurred as I was attending college at Wichita State University in Kansas. I decided to fulfill a liberal arts requirement with a class on the history and people of Japan. It was a subject I knew next to nothing about so I thought it would appropriately fit the agenda of broadening my horizons. This time I was right. I learned a wealth of fascinating information about Japan’s people and culture. But the Magic Eye Moment happened when I learned about what happened to Americans of Japanese descent in the United States during WWII. I thought I had a fairly decent education growing up, and I did. But I had never been taught about how we put people in internment camps here in the United States based on their ethnic heritage. The very thing those evil Nazis were doing…we were doing the same thing.
My head was spinning. I was stunned that this very significant piece of history had been hidden from me because in our 20/20 hindsight we saw how shameful it was. So no one likes to talk about it. In a mere fifty to seventy years this betrayal had fairly effectively been hidden from a generation. While I learned a number of hard lessons from this including things about betrayal, hypocrisy, the horrible things that fear drives people to do to other people, and how history is written by the victor. But I think it was another lesson that hit me the hardest. This act was perpetrated by the American government.
I grew up in the post-civil rights and women’s liberation world. I thought the government made laws and did things to protect people. But this new knowledge shocked me out of my naïve trust and made me a more critical thinker about public policy. I started paying attention and for a while I think mine was a household name for my senators and representatives as I started writing to them about pretty much every topic. I couldn’t un-see WWII era Japanese Americans, and they changed the face of trust and betrayal in my consciousness forever.
These Magic Eye Moments represent pivotal moments in my life, and I am thankful to those who helped me learn these lessons. They have made me a more concerned and compassionate person as I live out my life as a spiritual being having a human experience.