“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
I thought of Atticus Finch this week when I came upon a friend throwing balls to his dogs behind the old Sea Scouts hall near our local beach. It was a bright sunny morning but we’d both sought refuge in the same spot to escape the incessant winds we’ve had this Spring. And as we threw balls and talked, he commented on the beauty of our little protected place.
Truth to tell, I could think of more beautiful places. A patch of grass. A glimpse of sea. An old red brick building. But he pointed out the carpet of yellow dandelions on the grass. The blue sky contrasted with the red brick building, the tea-tree covered in snowy white blossom.
‘If you narrow your eyes,’ he said, ‘it could be an Impressionist painting, don’t you think?’
I imagined the scene painted with those feathery strokes used by the Impressionists to catch bright light on water, transparent skies, the texture of trees. And as I stepped inside my friend’s skin, I felt grateful and humbled and almost a little embarrassed that me, the writer, had been grumbling to myself about the wind, and worrying about the chapter that’s not coming along very well, instead of opening my eyes to the world around me.
He then opened his phone to show me the painting above. It was painted by an artist neither of us had heard of before, one John Mather, who like Frederick McCubbin painted on our strip of beach in the 1890’s. Excitedly, my friend pointed to the section of beach where he thought Mather had painted this exact scene.
And another moody painting from the exact spot where we’d been throwing balls to the dogs! The buildings have long gone but the dunes and tea-tree are unmistakable today. How wonderful to step inside the skin of a painter from a hundred years ago. How exciting to share his vision, as we do when we step inside a book and glimpse the soul of the author. The ultimate intimacy.
With the dogs running ahead, we walked back through the tea tree. My friend pointed out the beds of pussy tails that have appeared since the rains. I told him we used to pick them as kids and dip them in different coloured paints for our mothers to arrange as a bowl of flowers. He said sometimes when he walks through the twisted tea-tree and the new green growth, he lifts up his heart and sings.
He reminded me of my son who does a wonderful impersonation of Buddy Franklin’s walk after he’s kicked a goal for the Swans. It’s really a ‘pleased with himself’ kind of strut, with his head turned a little behind to catch a glimpse of himself on the big screen. It breaks me up every time my son does it.
The other day, he told me that when he’s out walking his dog, when he’s feeling a bit down and no one else is around, he does his Buddy walk. It cheers him up, he said.
It cheered me up! And after I’d stopped laughing, I realised he’d let me under his skin to share his loneliness, and his Buddy remedy. Now I want him to teach me the Buddy walk so that I can trot it out when I need cheering up!
Harper Lee got it right. In all of its guises, walking in another’s skin creates understanding. It’s also the ultimate privilege.
Oops! Apologies if a post called ‘Trees’ landed in your Inbox on Friday with some half-loaded pics. I pressed ‘Publish’ instead of ‘Save’! Trees in all their glory are for another time…
Have a great week…