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Vail Daily column: See life from slanted angles

Jack Van Ens

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” wrote Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) in her poem “There’s a Certain Slant of Light.” Hanging low in the sky, the wintry New England sun shone on a slant, bringing clarity to what Dickinson saw around her.

Slanting rays sharpened her sight, unlike blurred vision caused by direct summer sunlight. Pinching our eyes, we look to the side. Direct sunlight filtered through muggy air creates hazy images.

Political adversaries early in their political careers, retirees John Adams and Thomas Jefferson relied on Dickinson’s wise counsel. Youth look at truth straight-on. They embrace either-or convictions. As we mature, life proves more complicated. Former certainties fade into educated guesses. Certain statements mellow as tentative opinions. Interpretive slants fill mature minds.



Youth declare answers; adults respect ambiguity.

Adams and Jefferson were pen pals from 1812 through 1826. They both died on Independence Day, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Exchanging 150 letters, they shared perspectives on diverse topics: such as, political differences, religious bias, etymologies of antiquated words and debates on how God’s created the natural world.



Adams and Jefferson didn’t verbally duel; they engaged in dialog. These political adversaries-turned-friends realized slanted insights shaped perspectives.

“You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other,” confided Adams on July 15, 1813 at the beginning of their letter exchange. Jefferson agreed, after rehearsing political differences that still divided these patriots.

“I have always stated my opinion on a point on which we differ,” replied Jefferson, “not with a view toward controversy, for we are both too old to change opinions which are the result of a long life of inquiry and reflection; but on the suggestion of a former letter of yours, that we ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other” (October 28, 1813).



In prior cantankerous years, Adams and Jefferson heaved verbal grenades. During retirement, however, they toned down tirades with tempered comments.

Their writing reflected low-slung winter light that showed slants on vigorous discussions. Aging mixed with humor mellowed prior assertions. Adams and Jefferson treasured friendship. They saw differences as paths towards awareness, not contentious arguments.

Direct summer light exposes grievances; slanted winter light makes former adversaries gracious.

These founding fathers acted out S. N. Goenka’s re-telling of a parable: “A king asked several blind men to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling parts of the pachyderm’s body. The man who felt a leg said the elephant is like a pillar; the one who felt the tail said the elephant is like a rope; the one who felt the trunk said the elephant is like a tree branch; and the one who felt the tusk said the elephant is like a solid pipe.

“The king explained to them: ‘All of you are right. The reason you’re telling it differently is because each one of you touched a different part of the elephant.’”

Perspective determines what we regard as reliable, authentic and worthy. We “see life at slant.”

GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump is light years from Adams’ and Jefferson’s insight. The Donald basks in summer sun; he focuses spotlight moments on himself. Trump castigates as “losers” those who practice Dickinson’s wisdom about “seeing life on slant.” There’s only one direct way for Trump; his way.

He shatters conservative principles, mocks free-trade pacts and scorns nation-building in Iraq where Republican military hawks’ good intentions led to massive instability. Trump softens prohibitions against gay marriage and abortion. He’s won’t lower Social Security benefits.

Trump erects walls rather than builds bridges to immigrants, declaring that Mexico infiltrates our borders with rapists and drug dealers. He likes “girls” who know their place and disparages females who take him on. Preying on voters’ fears, he promises ready-fixes, with massive costs that drive up the national debt.

Trump basks in summer sun that makes Republican operatives sweat. He rejects nuance, avoiding different slants on complicated issues.

Instead of seeing topics on a slant that reveal what’s worthy and of good report, Trump uses bombast to defend his political agenda. He sounds and acts like a teenager who has all the answers but lacks savvy that fresh insights bring.

He’s a reckless entrepreneur. Wise people, says business guru Wiley Cerilli, realize “moments that break you from your routine are what define you.”

Trumpisms sizzle under the summer sun. The Donald rejects new slants — visionary angles — a Jeffersonian winter sun reveals.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling.


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