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The View Through Your Window

MitchI attended a funeral recently. The man who passed away was a well-renowned religious leader, a wise, respected, accomplished man. During one of the eulogies, I learned a small detail about his life. He had insisted, when his congregation moved to a new, impressive building, to have his office overlook the playground.

This way, he could look out the window to see children playing.

Now, this man could have picked any spot. He could have looked down on the prettiest landscape, to remind him that he was the boss.

He could have faced the wealthiest houses, to remind him that he worked amongst the well-to-do.

Instead, he chose the swing set and the sight of kids being joyful.

That made an impression. And it got me thinking about the windows we choose. How does what we view every day affect us? Bore us? Inspire us?

As a writer, for example, I am affected by what I see when I work. When I wrote the book, "Tuesdays With Morrie," I did so in a windowless basement. It made it easier to concentrate on the memories of a true story. When I wrote "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," a novel, I sat by a window looking at the sky and trees. It seemed to fit the mood.

Through the looking glass

I know some writers (Stephen King comes to mind) who prefer to have no view at all when they work -- a wall is better than a window -- so that they can concentrate solely on their story.

And I know others who need to draw inspiration from nature's majesty -- mountains, the ocean, a sprawling forest.

Think about the views you choose. Where do you set up your office, your bedroom, your kitchen? What do you look at when you eat? When you work? What is the first thing you see when you get up in the morning and look outside?

I remember living in New York City in a tiny apartment that had one window that looked into the wall of another building. It was depressing. All I saw was brick. I can still feel the claustrophobia.

I also remember, as a child, being taken on a trip to the Grand Canyon. We arrived at night and checked into a motel room. When we awoke the next morning, my siblings and I pulled back the curtain -- and we saw the whole massive canyon. It was surreal, almost scary, to be looking through glass at the lip of something so large.

Are you the type of person who wants the window seat on the plane? If so, what impresses you the most? Lifting off above everything? Disappearing into white mist? Peering down at the clouds?

A different perspective

There was a book I had as a young man, "A View Through My Window," which was nothing more than photographs of Central Park as seen through one window -- in winter, summer, spring and autumn. I was amazed how much the world could change through the same sill and frame.

I think about the windows in life, the tiny holes in certain prison cells, and how precious that view -- any view -- is to the people inside. Or the windows in a grade-school classroom, through which children longingly stare at the outside, wishing they were there. Or the small porthole on a spacecraft, through which men and women see our planet in a view shared only by God.

And I realize how much we define the world by what we see through our windows. That religious leader could have had a much more impressive vista. But he chose children at play, and I am guessing there were days that, when everything was going badly, that view lifted his spirits.

Next time you find yourself down, angry or blasé, maybe you don't need to change your entire life. Maybe just move your chair, and change your point of view.

(C) 2009 BY THE DETROIT FREE PRESS DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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