Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fully and Completely

It was a perfect moment. The sun was rising over the ocean, the display of light phenomenally beautiful. I was walking down the beach, looking for ‘treasure’ in the form of shells, driftwood, and other objects that might have been delivered to the shore during the nightly tides. I heard my son call to me, and I looked up. There he was, standing ankle deep in the water, the sunrise behind him. I pulled my phone from my pocket and snapped a picture, then walked over and joined him.

The picture I took of my son standing in front of the ocean sunrise is one of only 5 pictures I took during our weekend trip to see The Angel Oak Tree and The Isle of Palms. As a comparison, the friend who accompanied us on the trip took well over a hundred photos. I’m told one day I’ll regret not having documented more of my son’s childhood through photos…but I am the daughter of a ‘junker’ who has seen my father bring in too many discarded boxes of old photos to attribute too much importance to documenting every moment in my child’s life. I’m too busy being IN the moments to record them.

At 39, I have boxes and boxes of photos that I never look at. They are images from the past, of lives I tried on and decided didn’t fit, people I may exchange Facebook comments with from time to time, but am not in regular contact with and likely will never see again. When I move, I’ll store these photos at my parents’ home and hope for the best. The pictures I’ve collected from the time my son was born, I have pulled aside to put into collective albums, of course…but images of people I knew in college making silly faces, or a sculpture I created out of nuts and bolts in high school, or weddings I’ve been in, places I’ve visited, things I’ve done and worn and seen…I hardly see the need to haul these halfway around the free world.

Thank heavens for the digital age…

Still, even the digital age has its drawbacks. At the beach, I saw oodles of parents directing their children into cute poses over and over again, then saying ‘hold on, wait, hold on, I’m putting this on Facebook’ as they fiddled with phones…this brought to mind the question: do we spend so much time trying to record the moments of our lives that we forget to really live them? And does the ease of technology and social networking make us somehow feel obligated to share with friends and friends of friends and strangers even all the things we’re doing in our lives? I have very few photos on the walls of my home, but I have hundreds of images posted to Facebook, simply because it’s easy. It takes a few seconds to caption an image and share it with hundreds of people…but how much do those seconds take us out of a moment? How do the comments and responses that interrupt the remainder of our day after posting the photo affect our being fully present in our lives?

When I snapped the image of my son on the beach, I did not post it anywhere. The moment was simply too grand; too precious. After snapping the image, I was there beside him, telling him to hold up his arms and give the sunrise a big hug. Pelicans, one of my favorite birds, soared above us. Seagulls and ocean waves created the sound of the sea. The weather was near perfection, that autumn blend of hot and cold at the same time. The beach was sparsely populated; we found deer tracks. The sun came up, and we changed into our suits. As I promised myself I’d do, I charged into the sea on the morning of my birthday (note to self: the ocean water is pretty doggone cold at sunrise) and stayed in the water most of the morning. I took no more pictures beyond the one of my son at sunrise; I didn’t need to take anymore. What I needed was to be fully present, there with my only child, reveling in delight at ocean waves and the immensity and beauty of the sea. I am not sure when we’ll see the coast of our home state again. But I hardly need photos to recall it.

Later, visiting my parents, I showed my mother the 5 pictures I took. “That’s it?” she said. “Geez, why didn’t you take anymore pictures?”

I shrugged.

“I was there.” I said.

And I was, fully and completely.

It has taken me a long time to learn to be there, fully and completely. The garden helps. I check on my seedlings again this morning, the tiny shoots I’ve vested my hopes for a fall garden on. They are taking their time, growing, a miracle unfolding there beneath that dirt. I want so badly to put them in the ground, but they aren’t ready. I’m impatient by nature, but gardening has been a wonderful lesson for me in learning that not everything wonderful that can happen will happen overnight. The seedlings still aren’t ready, so I busy myself washing off the shells we collected that morning on the beach. The scent of the sea clings to them. I used to think I needed mountains to be happy, but I’ve come to realize it is the sea I now crave.

How did this happen? Can I own this change in myself? My mind flashes to the movie my son and I watched last Friday, Tim Burton’s remake of Alice in Wonderland. Towards the end, Alice stumbles upon the caterpillar Absalom hanging upside down, a chrysalis forming around his chubby body.

“I’ve come to the end of this life,” he says to her.

“You’re dying?” she responds.

“Transforming.” He replies.

I place the shells out to dry on a towel. These changes I'm embarking on, this future I feel coming, every step that I am taking to move towards a destiny I never imagined for myself...they, too, are moments.

Here I am.

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