“Better to be Seen than Viewed”

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

Recently I met a friend and said, “It is so good to see you,” and he rejoined, “It’s better to be seen than to be viewed.” As a smile crept onto my lips, I pondered the wisdom of his rejoinder: it is better to be seen than it is to be viewed in a pine box surrounded by fragrant flowers, weeping women, and mournful men.

My Cape Verdean friend’s words took me back to an African Methodist Episcopal service I attended almost two decades ago, when the minister stood in the pulpit and exclaimed, “I woke up this morning, looked in the morning papers, didn’t see my name in the obituaries, and knew that I was going to have a good day.” Ben Franklin has been credited with that quip, but both that epigram and the one about being seen and viewed remind me that we need to express joy for the single beauty of this day. Enjoy this moment, cherish this time, convey gratitude for our lives. “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience,” and we cannot do that being viewed, we cannot do that wasting time worrying about yesterday, we cannot do that standing still awaiting life to happen to us.

As I was thinking about this post, I found this wonderful story: “I interviewed a woman who is terminally ill. ‘So,’ I tried to ask delicately, ‘What is it like to wake up every morning and know that you are dying?’ ‘Well,’ she responded, ‘What is it like to wake up every morning and pretend that you are not?’” My former boss and greatest mentor, Tony Jarvis, used to remind the students of Roxbury Latin that our purpose in life was to prepare for death. In spite of the harshness and seeming morbidity of the words, I think his purpose was to remind us to live life fully, drink life to the lees, knowing that each moment is one that is inevitably taking us closer to our next destination. And since we know not where we will be, enjoy each moment of the time you know and have. I love the thoughts of the 20th century theologian Howard Thurman. His words concerning the potential joy in every moment give me pause, steep me in hope: “Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”

And as we seek to find the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace, we should make sure that we express gratitude to the ones we love. This story touched me today: “Today, like every day for the last four year, my father picked a fresh flower from his garden and took it to my mother. This time I decided to go with him to see her. As he placed the flower on her grave, he said, “I just wish I had picked her a fresh flower every day when she was alive.” Express our gratitude for people while they are with us, not after they are gone. Only Tom Sawyer is afforded the opportunity to enjoy his own eulogy.

As we determine to live life, to taste each experience, to take advantage of being seen, not viewed, we should listen to the 19th century sage, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Today and every day is the best day, because it is our best chance to achieve what we want and what the world needs. I’ll give the penultimate words to Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Live as if electricity is coursing through your veins, live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you will live forever.

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4 responses to ““Better to be Seen than Viewed”

  1. Sybil MccCarthy

    Did you ever consider being a preacher. But I guess a teacher is a preacher and vice versa. How lucky the young minds of Providence are to have you as their teacher…er um preacher…well, you are clearly a little of both. Love this. I feel better already.

    • Your sweet words make me feel very good, Sybil, and remind me that I am wealthy in my friends. Thank you for taking the time to read and to share your affirming thoughts. Of course, were I a preacher, my primary work would be to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable!

  2. I second the idea of a teacher/preacher. What a beautiful last line for this particular post; learn as if you were to live forever. I just love that. You are so considerably gifted, MOO. Hope you have a wonderful day and I have a good start to mine, having been inspired by your thoughts…

    • Oh, I think that that is a famous line. I could not find the attribution, but I feel as if that old saw has been with us for centuries. Thank you, both of you, for your warm words, passionate praise, complete confidence, and sage advice. How blessed am I to have two bright, beautiful women from Middlebury sharing their kindness

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