I was raised in a tower, with a view from a narrow, single window.
And I could not have been happier.
This will come as a shock to my parents, who think they brought me up in a perfectly normal four-bedroom house in semi-rural south-west Sydney. Sorry mum and dad. Like pretty much everyone else, I grew up in a tower. One window.
My tower room was constructed from white, upper middle class, well-educated bricks and the furnishings were solidly nuclear-family toned: one mum, one dad. There were no skeletons in our cupboards, although some of the décor has become slightly more flamboyant with the revelation that two of my brothers are gay. Not only did my window look out upon fields of other merrily middle class, white, well-educated folk, but early in life I was given a very attractive pair of rose-coloured evangelical Christian glasses to wear. So early in life, in fact, that I didn’t even realise I was wearing them. At the same time, I loved them entirely.
Throw in personality and a pretty debilitating chronic pain problem and what you have is a view from the window that is uniquely mine – all mine. Same as yours is yours – all yours. Did you ever play that game when you were a kid when you tried to describe a colour and wondered whether what you were seeing when you talked about green was the same as what someone else was seeing? It’s not. But then, how would you ever know?
It explains why I tend, in my forties (gosh, my fingers literally twitched when I typed that), to see the world in a particular way. Even now, I can’t help it. Those early years? They run deep. The truth is our worldview up to a certain point is uniquely our own – built from our childhood experiences, things we learnt, our family environments, our temperaments – the millions of fragments we absorbed along the way without ever knowing we were absorbing them. That’s what childhood is about. You belong to a family. This is who you are and how you do things. Your ‘take’ on the world is a view from a tower – one room, one window – opening onto a landscape that’s far bigger and wider than any of us can imagine.
But at some point in our adolescence we work that out. It’s the moment when for the first time it occurs to us:
WHAT IF I’M NOT SEEING THE WHOLE PICTURE? What if my view on this is wrong? Needs work? Is only half right?
Actually, not everyone has this revelation. Or perhaps they do, but they decide they like their own window best. Or they’ve been told their window actually IS the best window, with either the only view worth seeing or the only right way of understanding everything that lies beyond. Religion, actually, can be a bit like that. At its worst, it can claim to be the only right way to see the world. At its best, it provokes wonder and compassion and questioning and a rush from window to window and room to room and an open-ness, always an open-ness…
Those moments when, perhaps for the first time, you try to look out someone else’s window to see what the view looks like from over there, are revolutionary. You decide to look out the window of a Trump supporter. A refugee advocate. A liberal voter. Your spouse who thinks leaving the toilet seat up is actually no big deal. You try to get inside their room – the bricks their tower is made of, the soft furnishings, the way the light hits the floorboards. It warps your mind. Dear God. There’s another way to see this awesome view outside that I’ve always seen at just this angle, from just this beige-coloured sofa…
From your window I see chasms of rock and volcanic plumes; sunsets and deserts and gentle bewildered deer I never knew existed. And I am humbled.
For every argument where I held my truth like a sword and failed to hear yours, I apologise. For all the times I spoke too quickly and with too much heat and came in too hot and too strong, I am sorry. For every idea I’ve had that has changed; every opinion moderated; every new view I’ve stumbled across reluctant or exultant – I am glad. For the people who took me there – you who puzzled me, shocked me, angered me, disagreed with me, patiently guided me, intrigued me, befriended me, gently suggested my view was relevant but not the only one – thank you.
Towers keep us safe and they are necessary. I am a parent and I am raising my daughters within, while taking them with me to as many windows as I can, painfully aware of the limitations. This is how it is, growing up.
Long may it continue.