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Patty Kleban: A Little Perspective Never Hurts Anyone

by on May 14, 2012 6:00 AM

On my annual visit to see my good friend and Optometrist, Mike Cymbor, I learned that, again this year, he needs to adjust the prescription on my contact lens because my eye sight is changing.

Sorry Dr. Cymbor, but I didn’t need a check-up to tell me that. I don’t know if its age or experience, wisdom or whimsy, I’m finding that I’m seeing things a little differently than I did just a few years ago. It’s all about perspective.

I remember when I first started teaching at Penn State. The adjunct instructors were fairly low on the parking totem pole.  I was offered a parking pass that permitted me to park in what was then called Lot 80, the current location of the Berkey Creamery, the East Halls parking deck, etc.

My department offices were located in the Henderson Building at the time. Those long winter walks, arms laden with student projects that I had taken home to grade, my lunch, my purse, and sometimes an umbrella were definitely character building.

Over time, our offices moved, I became full-time and my parking status changed. I remember the day I got my green parking pass and could park in the Nittany Lion Inn deck, directly across from my office. I was so excited my kids thought I won the lottery.

Now, with offices in the Ford Building, I find myself grumbling on those mornings when the lot right next to our building is full and I have to walk the extra half block from that same parking garage. Just a few short years ago, being able to park in the garage seemed like heaven. Now, it’s an inconvenience.

Perspective.

It’s like taking things for granted when we have them and then appreciating them when we don’t. We have been without a kitchen sink and a dishwasher for several months because of a do-it-yourself kitchen renovation. Last week, the counters were installed and my husband hooked up the new faucet and the dishwasher. I have never been so excited as I was last week to hit the “start” button on that first load of dishes.

Sometimes going without helps us with perspective.

I bumped into a friend of mine at Wegman’s over the weekend and was eager to hear about her recent trip to Africa to visit her daughter who is studying in Gambia. The irony of standing and chatting in a grocery store where we can choose from 10 different kinds of potato chips while talking about a culture where sustenance is a daily effort provides some perspective.

Every time I eat a candy bar I think of my friend from the Philippines who shared stories of her mother cutting up a Snickers bar to share at Christmas and she and her siblings fighting over who got the end pieces because those had more chocolate.

Sometimes we just need to change the lens in which we see the world.

Last week, I was stressing out about getting my grades done, complaining about students who don’t do the work during the semester and then get upset about their grades at the end of the semester, whining about university  politics and just bellyaching about the end of the semester insanity.

My husband looked at me and with a wink in his eye said, “At least you don’t have to go into a 27” coal seam every day.” His grandfather was a coal miner who spent most of his adult life in the dark.

Thanks. I needed that perspective.

People who have lived and worked in any city know what perspective is when we locals complain about traffic on graduation or move-in or football weekends.

In comparison to bumper to bumper traffic on the beltway or parkway or freeway (insert any city), a seven-minute commute that slows to 12 minutes on a handful of weekends each year ain’t no big deal.

It’s like sibling squabbles that come when sisters return home for the summer from college viewed through the lens of a parent whose child is serving our country in Afghanistan.

Perspective.

Perspective comes when  complaining about the aches and pains of age, being out of shape, seasonal allergies or the inconvenience of that annual mammogram and then reading about little Emily Whitehead, a 6-year-old little girl from Philipsburg, who is fighting for her life in the pediatric oncology unit at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  

My friend Leslie says that everyone should spend at least one day volunteering in a children’s hospital to put that perspective in place.   

I gained some perspective this past weekend when my daughter participated in Penn State’s College of The Liberal Arts commencement ceremony. As the parent of a 2012 graduate, I was taken in by the pomp and circumstance, the academic regalia and the excitement of the graduates.   

I’ve been in faculty meetings where we have to be reminded to take our turn at commencement;  sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get people to participate. The thought of giving up part of a Saturday to sit through that two-hour ceremony when it’s not your kid in the cap and gown sometimes makes us lose our perspective about the importance of commencement.

My perspective has changed. I don’t even remember my own undergraduate commencement speaker or how I felt at the ceremony held in Beaver Stadium. My guess is that this year’s graduates will remember the words of Sue Paterno as she recognized the first class of Paterno Scholars. 

The standing ovation for Mrs. Paterno, the locked arm swaying of strangers-classmates during the alma mater and singing along to “may no act of ours bring shame” will be viewed differently through their eyes.

Our perspective as Penn Staters has changed since November.

Perspective only has value if we let it change how we think or use it to motivate us to do better. Looking at life through the lens of perspective should lead us to appreciate what we have and to value our opportunities.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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