I’ll never forget the last conversation I had with my great uncle before he died: he took my hand into his great, farm-calloused ones, shook it firmly, and said, “You stare the world down, and the world blinks back.”
This was at church during the sharing of the peace. We go to a Lutheran church, so things are predictable and subdued: everyone else was offering delicate hand clasps and politely murmuring, “Peace be with you,” as is the custom. So when he strayed from tradition to tell me this, I could only laugh in surprise and offer my thanks.
It was quite the compliment. It’s not every day someone says something so flattering.
I’m not sure it was one I had earned, though.
He’d given me that final message a few months prior to his death, and his handshake had been so confident, so sure.
It is sad that I didn’t fully understand what he meant until I saw him again in death. But his sudden mortality jarred me into this realization: It wasn’t just a compliment. I see that now. It was advice. It was a way of life. It was a way to approach a problem.
Lately, I’ve spent more time staring down at my own mess than I have staring the world down. It has become a distraction, an albatross about my neck that has pulled my head down.
But you must look up from your mess to stare the world down.
I’ve become so obsessed with the ever-growing tangles of health problems that I’ve just shut my eyes to them. I do not want to see anything else that might be wrong. I have foolishly believed that if I ignore them, they will go away. They haven’t. And they won’t. Not that way.
But you must open your eyes to stare the world down.
Maybe what my great uncle told me wasn’t so much a compliment as it was good advice: You stare the world down, and the world blinks back.
You must dare to stare the world down. This takes a measure of courage, because you must first open your eyes, and once they are open, you must take them off the distractions. You must boldly look up. You must look your world, your challenge, in the face, and you must stare that world, that challenge, down until it shrivels in insignificance beneath the power of your gaze.
He was right. It is what I must do to move forward from this place of despair. I want to become the person he saw me as being (or, at least, capable of becoming). I want out of this mess, and I can choose where to fix my eyes.
And though he is gone, the nugget of advice I mined from that compliment will forever stay with me, cupped inside the memory of my great uncle's firm handshake: You stare the world down, and the world blinks back.