The Parrot TrapPosted September 12th, 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
I recently had the opportunity to spend the weekend with our five-year old granddaughter – just the two of us – with our friends Lisa and Laura, who live on a farm a few hours from us. It was a weekend of horseback riding, playing on the tree swing with her 9-year old cousin and her aunt Shiloh, long walks, the farmer’s market; a special weekend indeed.
The first evening we decided to watch a movie of Laura’s that we hadn’t seen: The Parent Trap. It wasn’t the classic version with Hayley Mills, it was the new one with Lindsay Lohan playing twin sisters. After their parents split up when they were infants, one was raised by her mother in England, the other by her father in California. They didn’t know each other existed until they met at summer camp and began to scheme to get their parents back together.
It’s a cute movie; lots of fun scenes that I figured my granddaughter would enjoy. But she didn’t seem to be. She was interested. She was watching. But something was wrong. About halfway through the movie she said, “Papa, where are the birds?”
“Birds?” I asked; puzzled. “What birds?”
“The birds,” she repeated, “the parrots they’re gonna trap.”
“No sweetheart,” I smiled, “the movie isn’t about parrots the birds, it’s about parents, like mommy and daddy.”
A look of astonishment replaced bewilderment. A big smile of recognition broke out on her little face. “Ohhhh….” She said, “Parents, not parrots.”
A few minutes later she said, “What are they doing now, Papa?”
“They’re trying to get their mommy and daddy back together.”
It was clear from the new look on her face that with her focus on looking for brightly colored parrots, she had missed what was really taking place in the movie. We stopped it and began again. With her new understanding, everything made sense. She loved The Parent Trap. We both did.
And it struck me that what I experienced in Lisa and Laura’s living room was a metaphor for so much of what takes place in the world among us grown-ups. We too often allow our world-view, our opinions and perspectives, to become so deeply ingrained that we look for what we expect to see, or what we think we need to see, and often miss what’s really there. We look through our Democrat or Republican eyes; our religious or gender or sexual orientation eyes. And we miss a lot of what’s really there.
The hardest part of my work toward undoing racism is when white people get stuck in their pre-conceived, inherited, entitled, oblivious “not me” attitude. The problem is with other people; not me. It’s understandable for a five-year old. For us grown-ups, it’s a real trap.
We so often seek, well, “birds of a feather” that we perceive birds of a “different” feather to be wrong or “less than” and “the other.” We seek understanding, support, or guidance but we expect it in a certain way; a specific package that fits our expectations. When it comes looking different, we miss it. What’s blocking me from seeing all of it; the whole picture, the things I miss; and particularly: how can I see the things I don’t want to see?
As my granddaughter said, “Papa, it’s a Parrot Trap.”
Eastern Mennonite University
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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