At a middle-school quiz competition not long ago, with the scores tied, the quiz master plucked out a question card and asked his final question, ‘What are the two sides of a coin called?’ Both teams volunteered the same answer: Heads & Tails.
They were told that was incorrect. Members in the audience, rooting for either one of the sides and made up of schoolchildren mostly, exhaled loudly, and with tension in the air, stamped and laughed.
The quiz master, to prolong the suspense, instead of picking another question to break the deadlock, decided to throw the former question to the house to see if anyone did know the answer.
Now, after all these years, sitting at the back of the hall, detachedly watching two groups of teams getting grilled on their general knowledge, I couldn’t help thinking of how like a coin is life — offering, always, two points of view — one view plainly, painfully obvious, the other often hidden from sight and offering a different perspective
No one did and there were a lot of shamefaced looks on the faces of those who’d just stamped and laughed. ‘Obverse & Reverse’ offered the quiz master, in the end. Sitting at the back of the hall with a few teachers, my mind couldn’t help straying.
Observe and reverse
My mind, as regular readers will have gleaned by now, enjoys straying far and wide, ranging, roaming as far from the present as possible. And so with ‘obverse & reverse’, off I went somersaulting back in time.
I could hear my mother tell my father in her traditional stage-whisper voice (which an entire audience was able to hear), ‘He’s become very moody. There’s no telling which person you’re going to meet at breakfast, the cheerful one or the miserable.
It’s all heads and tails these days.’ I remember I was about to enter the room to partake of that very meal — breakfast — but I halted. And I realised that the ‘mood swinger’ under discussion was me, their fourteen-year-old!
Cataracts of laughter
Up until that point I had no idea that my demeanour was being assessed at all, and even if it was that it was being perceived differently, because while my folk at home may have found me miserable, my friends and I on the outside were always surfing the cataracts of laughter, happy with everything, happy with friendships, happy with the outdoors, happy playing cricket and generally happy that life seemed so … endless!
Now, after all these years, sitting at the back of the hall, detachedly watching two groups of teams getting grilled on their general knowledge, I couldn’t help thinking of how like a coin is life — offering, always, two points of view — one view plainly, painfully obvious, the other often hidden from sight and offering a different perspective.
Just the other day, a friend was telling me about his well-to-do brother who apparently is so miserly despite, or perhaps in spite of, his wealth that he has little or no time for others. ‘Our problems are not his. They are his to ignore,’ said the brother.
Yet, I guess, if the wealthy brother were to change tack and suddenly start taking an active part in his poorer brother’s life and problems, he’d just as easily be labelled ‘a busybody’. It’s the same with other aspects of life.
Over-population is how we think of a neighbour’s large family — and I have known some large families when I was growing, one made up of nineteen children! But on the other hand, an addition to our own family may be viewed as ‘a blessed event’!
Perspective! Likewise, when someone dares to be different, he is swiftly tagged as an ‘individualist’, but when he’s found to be different from us, the tag is changed. He’s quietly referred to as ‘eccentric’. This is life, I guess.
We’ll always find ourselves situated on one side or the other of a coin: the obverse, or the reverse. And often it has nothing to do with us, but how we are viewed. And that shouldn’t matter.
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.