I remember dog Sophie was full-grown but still quite young at the time. Sophie was of mixed heritage, carrying the genes of some sort of shepherding breed, which created and crafted her reality primarily through the perception of sight. She navigated the world with her eyes – bush to bush, brick by brick, trees to rocks to houses, between fence lines and lampposts.
When Sophie was very young, and experiencing each new season for the first time, she used to bark and coax me from my desk to follow her outside for something startlingly new, of which she felt I should be made aware – often simply a new blossom on an old camellia bush, or a fallen branch from the great oak tree. After I had been alerted to this newness, she would accept the alteration to the landscape of her life – until the next season (or a new day) brought fresh changes and shifts to the truth of her world.
But this particular day in my memory, when Sophie was perhaps a year and a half into her life, I took her to the grounds of the Aiken County Historical Museum. Behind the gracious old rambling mansion that has been cobbled together over generations of family living and public use, the ground slopes steeply. From the top-most edge of the lawns, the view arches and drops away significantly, coming to rest along the southern side of a major curve in a popular street. Traffic is easily visible over the top of the magnificent serpentine wall that surrounds the entire property. Due to the deep turn in the road just at this point, passersby drive slowly; due to the street’s popularity, it is rather constantly filled with vehicles – including horse trailers and their equine passengers entering Hitchcock Woods just beyond.
Sophie was delighted to explore the new-to-her territory; but as she came around the side of the house, at the top of the hill, she stopped abruptly – utterly captivated by the sight across the expanse of lawn and down the slope to the road at the bottom. She stood mesmerized, without moving, in absolute awe. Eventually, with sudden insight, I realized she had never before seen the world from this perspective. Ruled by sight, all she had known in her young life and limited existence had been relatively even ground and flat surfaces. This was breathtaking. This changed everything she knew to be true of the world.
I simply sat down on the ground beside her. And we observed it together in silence. And she pondered it all for a very long time.
I remember writing once that I suspect reality is just a point of view. Not a terribly original thought, but the farther into life I travel, the more convinced I am of the truth of it. It seems to be proving itself on every front – from human rights to the welfare of animals; from global climates to neighborhood watches; from politics to poverty to childhood diseases to the residuals of war. Reality is nothing so much as perspective. And this moment in time with Sophie made it all the more poignant and relatable and true to me.
I suspect, too, that we could all learn from the “Sophies” in our lives the wisdom of deep and honest contemplation when presented with a new perspective – an alternate reality. It may come to us when we traverse new ground. It may appear in the guise of strangers. Or be seen through the eyes of children. Perhaps we read or hear of it from the voices of great philosophers or minor mystics. From those who share our language and those who don’t. From idealists as well as idiots.
But most often, I think, such new perspectives can be brought to us by the natural world around us. If we just pay attention. And if we will justly consider each perspective as real and of value, and respect the integrity of it, the truth of it. And if we will embrace its significance as we travel together into the many-sided global culture yet to come.
Looking back, it had been shown to me that day rather brilliantly by a dog named Sophie, full-grown but still quite young.