I love to take photos. Whether with my "real" camera or my iPhone (which allows us all to be artists), taking photographs reminds me to stop and be aware of all that is around me. A leaf. A shadow. A shaft of light through a window. A bird. By constantly looking for things easily overlooked, my camera makes me a participant rather than just a by-stander.
I also find that when not careful, I rely so much on my camera to help me present, that in its absence I can easily miss the joy of a moment. Several years ago my son Nathan and I were walking on Vilano Bridge, camera-less, when a mama dolphin appeared, gently pushing her new born to the surface to take its first breaths. Right there, barely requiring a zoom lens, the mama and calf seemed close enough to touch and it was amazing in every way. Rather than standing, watching, and taking it all in, I bemoaned the absence of my camera, almost to the point of frustration and anger. Nathan, in all of his 14-year-old wisdom, said, "Mom, just stop and watch. Take a picture with your brain. You can always remember."
A similar situation threatened my peace and joy a few weeks ago. After retirement I hit the road to be alone and also visit a few family and friends. My first stop in North Carolina was to include some beautiful fall hiking; the weather, however, was not cooperating as rain fell in buckets. My disappointment in the moment being less-than-perfect resulted in frustration and even a bit of anxiety. I longed to walk in the sun-filtered forests and capture it all but instead I chose to wallow in disappointment for a few moments. Why even bother going out in the yucky, gray woods? Then I remembered Nathan's words and knew I could choose whether to experience a rainy hike or a sulky day; fortunately I chose to hike in spite of the weather. While I couldn't take my Nikon, I did slip my iPhone into a ziplock bag and hoped for the best.
It was one of the most gorgeous hikes I've ever experienced. The rain brought a freshness and shimmer that would have otherwise been absent. The greens were more brilliant and the reds more luscious. I had to go a bit slower, the trail being slippery, but this added to the delight. Part of my desire in retirement was to slow down and this wet, slippery walk reminded me that slowing down is a privilege and a gift, one I should embrace and lean into. During that walk I felt the love of God surround me in a fresh way.
The challenge of being present with love, with or without my camera, is a challenge I long to hold close in order to learn. These times are so fraught with anxiety - COVID, political unrest, rampant racism, economic uncertainty, and the dark places in my head-space that I too easily embrace (most unfounded) - truly rob me of joy and health and keep me from practicing The Way of Love. A conscious commitment to being fully present in each moment I'm given is my solution for more peace and more love in midst of conflict and anxiousness. Is there a person I can call just to listen? Do I have the time to write a card to someone just to let them know I'm thinking of them? What can I do in my community to ease someone else's pain? And all these photos I've taken. Are there ones that could be printed as gifts to others to remind them they are loved?
COVID keeps us apart.
Friends and family disappoint me and I them.
Sometimes it rains when we long for sunshine.
I don't always remember to bring along my camera.
In all of these situations, from seemingly small to incredibly complex, I have a choice. I can choose anger, fear, pride or disappointment OR I can choose peace, acceptance, humility, and calm. I confess the latter list is a much harder calling but is the only way to be truly present in a world that desperately needs love to be real and last long after the photo has faded.