The Image

It happened years ago, but I've never forgotten it. I was singing and speaking at a small midwestern college. During an informal seminar in one of the dorm lounges, a couple came in late.

   I couldn't help noticing something odd about them. The girl was very attractive, close to cover-girl standards. The guy looked as if he had just walked off the set for The Nerds. He was short, wore thick horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid short-sleeved shirt. He was definitely a candidate for getting sand kicked in his face.

   But the strangest thing of all was that these two were obviously in love. What could she possibly see in him? I asked myself. Suddenly I realized — she was blind.

   But what did she see in him? Everything. Everything that's important about who a person is, what love is, and what a real man is. She saw everything she needed to know about him.

   Blessed are the blind, for they can see people as they really are. Woe to those who can see, for they will constantly be tripped up by the image.

   As Americans, we're obsessed with images. Who we are isn't

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as important as how we appear. In fact, we spend so much time and effort on appearances, we lose the ability to recognize the true identity of another person, or even ourselves.

   We've become more familiar with the image than we are with the real thing. How many Americans think they know football? But how many have ever been to an actual game, smelled a locker room, or even stood on the muddy sidelines surrounded by living monoliths towering over them like downtown Pittsburgh?

   How many people think they know and love Robert Redford, yet they have never sat down with him and discussed his childhood or what he believes? How many people think they understand Vietnam via the six o'clock news or Cambodia after seeing The Killing Fields? How many arrive at the Grand Canyon and are disappointed to find that it doesn't look like the pictures on the brochure? How many really know anything at all about the political candidate they voted for last November? How many news stories are actually prepackaged images created for the camera rather than spontaneous events recorded on film?

   This familiarity with images spoils our relationships with real people. Instead of appreciating them for their own uniqueness, we constantly compare them to our expectations of their image.

   Dating relationships are especially vulnerable to this problem. A person isn't evaluated on character or individuality, but on how close he or she measures up to the other's image of the ideal mate. Real people take second chair to the ideal; they measure up to the image or they don't.

   Have you ever noticed the excitement at the beginning of a romance that later faded with growing familiarity? In the early stages of any new friendship, we're usually seeing more of the image than we are of the real person. We've seen enough of the surface to see similarities between the object of our affections and the ideal we seek, but not enough to show us that our ideal and the new friend are not the same person.

   In essence, we're falling in love with the image, with the idea that this one person might be "it." Sooner or later the real person is going to start breaking through that image, and disillusionment will set in.

   The success of a marriage comes not in finding the "right" person, but in the ability of both partners to adjust to the real

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person they inevitably realize they married. Some people never make this adjustment, becoming trapped in an endless search for an image that does not exist.

   We'd all do well to remember the blind girl. In some ways she was handicapped. But her blindness could be a positive thing in that it forced her to encounter the unseen realities of the world around her. We are handicapped in some ways, too. Our blindness is a white blindness, a sensory overload that often shields us or distracts us from the truth.

   Is it any surprise that the blind girl fell in love with the nerd? She had erased the image barrier. She saw what he was made of. Those of us with two good eyes must become more aware of how important external images have become to us and how hard we must fight to break through and get to reality.

   May God grant us the same kind of sight and the same kind of blindness — that in seeing, we might truly see.

Chapter 10  ||  Table of Contents