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Tell Me What You See

A couple of years ago my parents moved to a retirement center into an apartment that overlooks a courtyard. They quickly settled into life there forming new friendships and joining in the many activities available.

Within a year of moving into their new place, my Dad was diagnosed with a rare cancer. The only treatment available was experimental and required my Dad to sign up for a study at Oregon Health Science University in Portland. The treatment did shrink the tumor but ultimately it took such a toll on his body, his health began to rapidly decline. My Dad was a man who had never spent a night in the hospital. At age 90 that changed and his life became centered around doctors visits and hospitalizations. It became clear he wasn’t going to be able to return to retirement living and he was entering the final stage of his life here on earth. He returned to the building where he had been living, but instead went to the assisted living portion of that building to live out his final days.

My Dad’s new apartment in assisted living was almost directly across the courtyard from the apartment where my parents had lived together. As I overlooked the courtyard for the first time when visiting my Dad, I was amazed how different the courtyard looked from the opposite side of the building. In fact, it felt like I was looking at a different courtyard.

The sense of how different the courtyard looked from this new vantage point stayed with me. As I watched a beautiful sunset one evening from my Dad’s apartment, I realized my Mom sees the sunrise rather than the sunset from her apartment. I studied the courtyard and realized I was being shown the exact opposite side of everything.

As my brothers began to gather to visit my Dad during his final days, the courtyard again came to mind. I have three brothers – two older brothers and a twin brother. I realized each of us was coming to this place and this moment with a different life’s journey and perspective. We each sat in a little different place, literally and figuratively, as we looked at our Dad, his life, our family and the experience of his final journey. In our quiet moments together, I shared with each of them the story of the courtyard. We talked about how each of us was entering this experience from a different place and perspective. I mentioned just as the same courtyard can look so different depending on your vantage point, so too each of us will experience the passing of our Dad differently. Though I don’t fully know how much the courtyard analogy resonated with each of them, I do know it softened me and allowed me to extend more space and room for other people’s experiences in my Dad’s final days.

The courtyard story has been a theme for me well beyond my Dad’s passing. I’m blessed with a diverse group of friends who have widely differing views on a whole range of subjects. Over the years, I’ve often struggled with how people I love and respect can see the same situation or subject so differently. I’ve also struggled when someone doesn’t share my view when something seems so absolutely obvious to me. In those moments, I will often attempt to put labels on the person, to minimize, marginalize and dismiss the person in my mind. In my more awake moments, I now try to go back to that courtyard and imagine their vantage point. And when I truly want to understand where they’re coming from, I ask them to TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE. Whenever I’ve done that and truly listened, I’ve gained insight and perspective and my heart has softened.



Every one of us has traveled a different road that brings us to this point in our life. Everyone of us looks a situation or a person from a different place. Sometimes it’s a subtle difference and sometimes we’re miles apart in our vantage point. Before we minimize, marginalize or dismiss someone, what if we were to get curious and ask them to TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE and genuinely listen to what they have to say. We may realize they’re simply standing on the other side of the same courtyard and the view they describe isn’t wrong . . . it’s just different.

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