Blank Canvases – The Power of Perspective

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Abraham Lincoln.

The too well dressed mailman stood perfectly straight at my front door. Black eyes pierced me. Quiet words cut through the noise that filled my life. “What is perspective, Mr. Radcliffe? Well? No answer?”

I struggled to shut the door on this bizarre apparition. A steel toed boot blocked my attempts.

He continued on as if nothing had happened. “Perspective is the difference between driving a Ferrari or a Datsun B210, as you drive. Perspective is everything, Mr. Radcliffe. Would you prefer to be the Ferrari who glides through the hairpin turns of San Francisco or continue to be the ancient Datsun B210 and roll and bounce and struggle to keep from rolling over?”

I stared blankly back. How could this stranger know that my life is falling apart? Drafting airplane parts doesn’t pay for daycare expenses that are higher than my mortgage payments. It doesn’t put food and medicine into the mouths of three little children. And it certainly doesn’t pay for ex-wives. 

The mailman smiled serenely. “Mr. Radcliffe, I see that you are confused. It’s a good thing that I brought this package for you. Good day sir.”

I took the package, slammed the door, and promptly threw the package away. 

30 minutes later I picked up the package out of the garbage and examined it.  

The package was addressed to Ian Radcliffe, me, with no return address. I should have asked that guy who the package was from. Curiosity got the best of me … and I didn’t care if it was a bomb.  

I opened the package. The package contained some sort of a fancy blue-ray disk player with a letter attached to it. I thoroughly inspected the player before putting it on the kitchen counter. Then I picked up the letter and scanned it. I couldn’t put it down. I read it more then five times before I had to stop because my hands were shaking too much. 

The letter discussed a myriad of things about me that no one was supposed to know about. The letter ended with “Plug the player into your computer and it will change your life. All you have to do is to install the software.”

I called the post office and asked if I had a package delivered to my house. They confirmed it. 

I searched my house for hidden cameras and microphones. I didn’t find any.  

I spent the next week trying to decide what to do. I couldn’t concentrate. Some days I couldn’t eat – other days I ate like a horse.  

I did enough to get by at work, only enough. I could have skipped work entirely and I don’t think that anyone would have noticed. It was pathetic there. 

I doubled my running routine, played loud music to an empty room, spent a lot of time at the sports bar, and totally ignored my computer. I called my ex-wife and asked her why she sent me a package. She hung up on me.

I threw the player out five times. I retrieved it 6 times. 

One week later, I stared at the computer screen. “Unknown Publisher. Continue Installation?” My finger hovered over the enter key. If I hit it now, there would be no turning back.

I hit the enter key.

The software installed quickly, the lights dimmed, and my speakers crackled to life.  

A melodic computer voice, filled with passion, identified herself as Eve. “The canvases of history glisten with the brush strokes of lines and curves expertly crafted into words that jump out of the pages at us. Their insatiable desire is to kindle the fires of our imagination. There are stories of swash buckling adventures … and crafty pirates … and of true love found … and lost.” 

“Our heroes, each and every one of them, have made their indelible marks. We hang those cherished masterpieces, with care, on the walls of our lives. We can look at them, at any time we want, and experience them all over again. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet, Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. to name but a few. Those stories are magical.” 

To my amazement, the player was a holographic projection unit. The room went completely black and a painter’s canvas was slowly circling in front of me. “All masterpieces start with a blank canvas, Ian.”

Eve continued. “Within each one of us, lies a master craftsman who takes history’s masterpieces and expertly recreates those works of art with the express purpose of hanging them in the walls of our memories for our own pleasure.”

For a moment I thought about turning off the computer. I had no idea where Eve was going with this, but I was totally impressed with the program and I wanted to see more.

Eve said, “Which side of the canvas will you choose for your work of art, Ian?”     

I responded, “Does it matter?” I arbitrarily poked at one side of the canvas floating in front of me. 

Suddenly the room filled with light. I gazed upward and gasped at the river of twinkling lights that flowed across the nighttime sky. I tried and failed to remember the last time I witnessed the beauty of the sky without the influence of the city lights.

I asked, “Where are we Eve?”

“We are in the town of Boston, in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. It’s 2am, April 19th.” 

My breath caught in my throat. “What am I doing here?” Then, I heard voices. “Eve, what are those voices?”

No response.

Curiosity got the better of me. “Eve, take me to the voices.”

I found myself in the midst of men with fancy red wool coats and white pants. Then I spied their muskets with bayonets. British soldiers? I was impressed. These guys were the elite, the best of the best. They should be happy, but they weren’t. Their eyes were ringed with black and their faces were downcast. “What’s wrong with them Eve?”

“They’ve been waiting around for three hours and they don’t know why …”

“They’ve been up for more than 24 hours and they’re tired …”

“And their feet are wet.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh poor babies. Who cares if their feet are wet?”

“Their silk stockings and shoes are wet from having to march through a stream. If they have to make a long march now, they will get painful blisters.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

I watched the commander walk up. His voice boomed out in the stillness of the night. We have more rations for you, but I see that you don’t need them. We have been ordered by King George III to put down the civil unrest that is rocking the colonies. We have reports that the colonists have cannon in Concord. You are to immediately march to Concord and take them.”

I suddenly found myself being rowed across the bay, dressed as a British Soldier. The heavy field pack was already tearing into my shoulders, even through the thick red, wool jacket. The musket and bayonet didn’t help matters any. I looked down at my feet and I found them to be decidedly wet. “Hey Eve. How far is it from Boston to Concord?”

Eve quietly responded back. “As a British soldier, you will march in three rows at 80 steps per minute. It’s 20 miles to Concord.”

I groaned. 

Before I knew it, we were out of the rowboats and were marching. For a while, I tried to keep count of the steps as something to do. I soon lost track. So, I focused on staying in step with the soldier in front of me. Time moved on at an agonizingly slow pace. I was happily surprised when I saw the sun rising out of the east.

I practically ran into the soldier in front of me when the commander called us to a halt. We weren’t in Concord yet. I wondered why we had stopped. Then I saw it. We were on the commons in the small town of Lexington. Seventy seven armed colonists were blocking our path. 

I heard our commander’s voice boom out. “Drop your weapons you rebels and disperse!”

They said something back, but I didn’t hear it.

A shot rang out. I tried to see who it was who had shot, but I couldn’t tell. Then all pandemonium broke out. When it was over, eight colonists were dead and ten were wounded. Only one British soldier died, but the commander’s horse was wounded. 

I thought that we may rest here for a bit, but I was wrong. We were on the road again marching to Concord. We arrived sometime in the morning. 

The commander immediately sent us out in search of cannon.  

I thought about the cannon. There was only one use for them, war. It’s not like you can shoot duck with them. 

No one could find any cannon. The commander sent us out again, but the results were the same. It was plainly visible that the commander was extremely worried. The commander then ordered 98 of us to guard the Concord bridges, which seemed like a sensible action to me. 

We reached the bridge and, to my surprise, we were ordered to take a nap. That was a most welcome order considering everyone’s lack of sleep.

I cherished the sleep. I hated the wakeup call. Terror ripped through me upon my sudden awakening. Hundreds of armed colonists were bearing down on us. They fired. We didn’t even have a chance to fire back. We broke ranks and ran. 

The colonists didn’t stop. They continued to fire on us from behind rocks and trees and stone walls. We tried to fight them, but we couldn’t find them. We even tried to jump over the stone walls, but we were unsuccessful. 

We finally made it back to Lexington and, to our surprise, we found reinforcements. The Governor was concerned that he had not sent enough soldiers, so he had sent more. I was extremely grateful to see them. Surely the colonists would stop attacking now that we had reinforcements.

I was wrong. 

The colonists chased us and the reinforcements all the way back to Boston where they laid siege of the city. We suffered heavy causalities. 

I was filled with more despair then I have ever felt before.

Then I heard a voice that I had completely forgotten about, Eve. I smiled until I heard what she said. “The brush strokes of this story have inspired millions and millions of people to -”

I yelled at her. “What are you talking about? What an unmitigated disaster! You have some seriously flawed programming. I should just throw you out.”

Eve’s voice had a sadness to it that I wasn’t expecting. “Ian Radcliffe, did you know that a single story has the power to bring endless despair … or incredible hope?”

Yelling at a computer is a waste of time, but at this point it felt seriously good. “Eve, you’re wrong. Where is your off switch?”

My room went dark once again and the spinning canvas reappeared in front of me. Eve continued. “Each and every one of us has the power to see our stories in any way we choose -”

Interrupting, I shouted back. “That is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard!”

“Would you like to see the other side of the canvas of this story now?”

I groaned. “Do I have a choice?”


I groaned louder when I saw the stars reappear. “Okay, okay, where am I now? I don’t want to get shot this time.”

“It’s 2am, April 19th. You are standing by a farm house near the town of Lexington.”

“What am I doing here? I don’t want to be here!”

Eve’s voice tinged with some anger in it. “I am responding to your query that my data is inaccurate.”

Okay, okay. Who am I supposed to be this time Eve? I’m not dressed like a British soldier.”

“You are a farmer.”

“Eve, news flash. It’s 2am in the morning in April. It’s planting season for farmers and I have a rifle in my hand. What is it that I’m planting? Gold? At least let me plant a money tree.”

Eve said, “We are here, waiting for Paul Revere.”

“Okay Eve, I’ll play along a little longer. I’m waiting for Paul Revere with a rifle in my hand? Does he owe me money? Who is Paul Revere?”

“The colonial army has spies in Governor John Gage’s cabinet. They have learned of King George’s orders from April 14th to put down the civil unrest in the colonies. They also know that the Governor is under the utmost pressure to comply with the order. The spies have learned that the Governor will order his troupes to march. They know that the Governor has narrowed down his choices to two towns, Worcester and Concord. They just don’t know which town he has chosen.”

I took a deep breath. “Eve, focus. Who is Paul Revere?”

“Paul Revere is one of the spies. He is currently waiting outside of the town of Boston and staring at the old North Tower. He has spies in the tower that are watching the British. If the British march to Worcester, which is by land from Boston, the spies will put one light in the tower. If the British are marching towards Concord, which is across the bay from Boston, then the spies will put two lights in the tower.”

I couldn’t help but get excited! “Eve, you’ve made me a spy? This could be fun!”

Eve continued on. “Paul Revere is just about to see two lights in the tower. Then he will be riding though Lexington to Concord and to the surrounding towns. He will be banging on farm doors and yelling ‘the British are coming’. He is calling all of the Minutemen to fight. You are a minuteman, not a spy. Minutemen were so named because of their ability to be ready to fight in a minute. You are armed with a tomahawk and a rifle.” 

This whole scenario wasn’t making sense to me. “Are you serious Eve? I’m a farmer and I’m going to fight? If I don’t plant now, my family could starve in the fall. I do have a family right?”

“You strongly believe that you are being miss-treated by the British and you are willing to fight for your rights. Your leaders have also done a great job with the press in keeping your moral up and providing information on what is happening. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. ”

“Eve, wait. Why do I have a rifle and not a musket like the British?”

“Your rifle is more accurate and can shoot farther then the British musket. You use the rifle to hunt for food and for the protection of your farm.” 

I was impressed. “The colonists have a smart plan.”

I waited around for a while till I heard a horse pounding down the road and a voice yelling out “The British are coming! The British are coming!” I watched as he banged on the farm house doors, waking people up. 

The next thing I knew, I was standing with 77 other Minutemen on the commons in Lexington. I heard the British commander’s voice boom out. “Drop your weapons you rebels and disperse!”

Then I heard our commander say, “If the British want a war, then let is start right here! Don’t fire unless fired upon!”

Then a shot rang out and pandemonium broke out. When it was over, eight colonists were dead and ten were wounded. Only one British soldier died. I retreated with the rest of the minutemen.

I struggled to keep up with the events. “Eve, why don’t we fight like the British?”

Eve seemed surprised. “Of course you are well versed in British tactics. You learned of them first hand in the French-Indian war. You also know that the British will handily beat you if you use their tactics. Therefore, you have adopted tactics that play to your strengths. You will fight like hunters. This is the same tactic that the Indians used. These tactics, coupled together with your leader’s usage of the press, has created an extremely potent combination.”

I didn’t know that. “Really?”

“Yes Ian. Watch what happens in the next turn of events on this day of April 19, 1775.”

I found myself with hundreds of other Minutemen. We attacked the British on the bridges in Concord. Then we drove the British, with their reinforcements, all the way back to Boston where we were joined by 16,000 other colonists in our siege of Boston. The siege of all land routes in and out of Boston would last for nearly two months.

I thought about what Eve had shown me. It didn’t make sense to me. “Eve, this battle still doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. So, we won a small battle. Why make such a big deal about it?”

If computers could smile, Eve did. “With this battle, you declared your freedom from the most powerful country in the world. You fought them and won. And, you created a constitution, ratified by your peers, that still works to this day. This act, which started right here in Lexington, became a beacon of hope for the entire world. This act would be heard by nation after nation who would also declare their freedom. The United States would soon become the bastion of freedom.”

“Eve, that’s really cool! Why didn’t you just tell me this in the first place?”

Eve paused before responding. “Remember Ian that each and every one of us has the power to see our stories, and our heroes, in any way we choose. You have now experienced, though this story of The Shot Heard Round the World, that every story has the power to bring endless despair, or incredible hope.”

I wasn’t buying Eve’s argument. “Eve, this is a wonderful story that happened hundreds of years ago. This has no application in today’s society. This is not a big deal anymore.”

Eve said, “Abraham Lincoln said, ‘We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.’ Ian Radcliffe, with perspective comes power and hope. Within the painful situation that you are currently embroiled in, you can choose to see the thorns or the roses. You can become bitter through the divorce and money challenges. Or, you can choose to see the hope of a new life emerging. The choice is yours to make – as it always is. Module complete.”  

Suddenly, the lights came back on in my room. 

I sat in silence for a long time. 

I heard the words of my ex-wife shrieking at me – seeking to destroy the very ground that I walked on. I saw her walk out of my life and the lives of three little kids. I heard all the hatred. My heart throbbed. My hands shook. My stomach curled into tight little knots. Then I heard something different.

Slowly, ever so slowly at first I began to hear the words of my friends showering me with encouragement and helping hands. Hands that brought food to feed my kids and me. Hands that sewed the kids clothes. Hands that taught me how to cook. Hands that watched the kids for me. Hands that were teaching me how to make money from making wooden cabinets so that I had two incomes that would meet my needs. 

Do I have a life that is falling apart? Or, am I being remade into something amazing?

I decided that my thorn bush really does have beautiful roses. Roses that bloom into hope in all sorts of shapes and colors. 

With perspective comes the power of hope.

“Turning today’s pain into confident expectations for a great tomorrow”

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