There’s this beautiful city in the bustling metropolis of Brazil called Sao Paulo. Some 8 years or so ago, the mayor of this city realized something. The beautiful city was being overrun with pollution, but not the kind you might think. It wasn’t recycling programs that needed to happen or a promotion of carpooling but rather that the city was drowning in advertisements. Visual pollution.
My son was just 5 years old when he noticed the same thing. He was just learning to put C, A and T together to form a word and suddenly it happened. We were driving along the same roads of our town that we’d driven every day for the past few years. We were passing the same businesses and the same billboards but it wasn’t until today that he could really see them for what they were. Every other time they were just a blur of whatever-ness. This day they became a bombardment.
“I can’t turn it off,” he declared from his car seat, the little bean that he was. “My eyes can’t stop seeing it all! Make it go away!”
Visual pollution. Constant bombardment. Intake overload.
Signage and images going into our minds and our hearts and affecting our very souls without us being even very aware of it. How much does it shape us? Judging by the money poured into this enterprise each year, I’d say probably a really big bunch.
My mind can often start to feel like my sons on that day that he realized that all the colours and swirls and letters on the signs were actually telling him something. It can start to feel like I’m seeing so much and it’s all going in and once you know, you can’t unknow and what on earth do we do with all the information? How do we process all that we see? Does is require action or non-action or a rebellion or a veritable filing system, a rolodex of the mind to be drawn on at a later date?
In 2007, the mayor of Sao Paulo banned all forms of outdoor advertising. Billboards and screens and sides of buses and benches became void of words. Pamphlets being handed out and even the size of store front signs became a target of his vision and the city was wiped clean of all that was unnecessary. What happened, as a result, was that the beauty of the city started to shine. The colours of the buildings were now noticed. The vibrancy of the people on the street became the landscape. The bustling metropolis became a place you could rest your eyes and your soul and just be.
Unfortunately for my son, we live in a place where no such thing is happening and at such a young age trying to teach him to control the excess that was overtaking his mind was a task not for the faint of heart. Do we teach him to overlook? This comes with it’s own set of problems. Information going in but not being recognized. Do we teach him to take it all in and discern what’s good and what’s not? Overstimulation and over-analyzation became the issue. Do we just let it all go in with little talk of what it’s all about? Not the intentional parenting style we wanted.
Over time the angst over it all faded, as these things do when we realize it’s just the norm and there’s nothing we can do about it. It still bothers me though, if I think too long on it. The fact that he couldn’t turn it off at 5. As a kindergartener, we couldn’t filter what was going in or the effect it was having.
It’s not marketing or advertising that overwhelms my adult mind. I fear I’ve grown up with it and am already just one of the mass victims that have fallen prey to it’s enticing ways.
Instead, God has opened my eyes to see people. I surmise this is harder on the mind and heart than wanting the dress that model is wearing or suddenly craving the golden arches. Because when you see people, a human, made in the image and likeness of God, and you look into their eyes and you can sense the brokenness and the hurt, well – you can’t just shrug that off or will power it away. When you see the glistening eyes of the beautiful soul telling you of their childhood trauma or you hear the anger in their tone or you simply see the sunken in ways of their eyes because they’re hungry, there’s no just walking away.
My mind can become overwhelmed with it all. With the hurt and the anger and the brokenness. With the victims and the perpetrators and the vulnerability of the oppressed. With the orphans and the widows and the mama’s who wish they could have held their babies for just one more day. With the fear of those who aren’t speaking out but enduring or aren’t overcoming but victimized over and over and over again.
When these stories have faces and names and eyes deep with emotion, what do we do? Where do we file it? How do we take action on all of it?
Truth of it is that we can’t. Nobody has the capacity to tackle it all.
Thankfully there’s one place I’ve found that can rest my soul. There’s one place I can go to unload the burdens in my mind and the weighings on my heart. There’s an eternal place of sunshine that can shine upon my soul. He can tackle it all. He can overcome it. He is Justice. He will make it right.
His name is Jesus.
So I can’t stop my mind from taking it all in, nor do I want to. I can’t rip the images down from my mind like the city in Brazil leaving a blank slate where their once was constant ambush. I can simply run to the place that I can lay it down, that refuels my soul, that rests my mind. The place that feels like sunshine on my face every single day.
And when the clutter is stripped away, do you know what happens? Just like the city you start to see the beauty. The vibrancy. The very human-ness behind the slapped on label of victim or orphan. Your eyes can suddenly rest and just see them, your mind can suddenly just be and love them.
When stigmas and classifications are torn off, my heart suddenly knows that we’re all the same. Each one of us. We all want to be seen, to be known and to feel love. It’s that I can walk forward in!