Last week my family and I took our first trip together to my grandmother’s house in Rhode Island. She lives on a magical little pond (although out here we’d call it a lake…tomato, tom-ah-to) that was home to my most favorite childhood memories growing up; picking blueberries along the sand, endless afternoons of playing croquet and badminton in the yard with my siblings, taking walks barefoot in the woods, and swimming in the bath-like lake water all day and all night. My kids hadn’t been there yet and I admit I got rather bleary eyed watching my husband and kids throwing each other off the raft and seeing my childhood repeat in real time (from the other side of life) the whole time we were there.
The Trip I Had In Mind vs What Played Out
The thing I was looking forward to the most, I think, was being able to take photos on the pond. I’m a photographer and I know the light on that property backwards and forwards. I took tons of photos. I got up one morning before the sun on a clear day after rain and waited for the light to burst through the trees and light the mist on the water. I took photos of my kids in every spot I loved and could think of. But I didn’t take as many as I could have, honestly. Let me tell you why…
One afternoon it started raining off and on. It was still humid as Hades outside and the water stays warm even when it rains, so I took the kids out to swim to get them outside instead of cooped up in the house. It was just sprinkling/misting on and off, but at one point it started raining in earnest, and I decided that it might be good to get out and dry off before it started pouring. The clouds were moving quickly and just as we were swimming to shore, I looked up and saw just the faintest hint of a rainbow start to form on the other side of the lake. I pointed it out to the kids and within seconds, it burst into one of the most incredibly vibrant rainbows I’d ever seen in my life. Not only that, but the end of it was actually IN the water on the other side of the lake. My husband and grandma, and visiting aunts and uncles happened to see it while they were inside and all came out together to look at it, and take out their phones for some photos.
At the same time, a little voice inside my head started screaming in panic to go and get my camera. Immediately the right lens popped to mind, the right angle, the right colors and light, and I saw, as I often do, the image I wanted in my head and that shock of electricity that keeps my photography-heart fueled, consumed my brain for a moment. But I also knew- I knew– that this was a fleeting moment. By the time I would have run inside to grab my camera, the rainbow would have been gone. I would have maybe caught just the tail end of it if I was lucky. So instead I sat there in the water with my kids and watched nature put on a spectacular show and enjoyed the moment to it’s fullest with people I loved around me.
Remember the episode from The Office when Jim and Pam get married, and Jim tells Pam that they should take mental pictures of the day because everything goes by so fast? This is a real-life lesson.
Photography has an interesting purpose in our life – it can capture and remind us of some of our favorite memories in perfect detail. But sometimes it can also get in the way. How many times do we stop our kids from enjoying something to make them look up and smile at the camera? How many times do we get in the way of meaningful life events with our phones out that could otherwise just be enjoyed a little more without them? Don’t get me wrong, taking photos of life memories is my job…but this trip, and after that moment, I tried to do that.
If you want a quick wake-up call on how many moments you might have missed a “mental picture” of, take out your phone and scroll through your photos and count how many of them you’ve actually done something with (post, print, share with a friend, etc.). If the number of photos that have done nothing but take up space on your phone far outnumber the ones that anyone else has actually seen or enjoyed, you might ask yourself how many of those situations you could been a little more present for if not for your phone? Keep taking photos, don’t ever stop doing that, but just make sure you balance it with actually living the moments too.
My hope is that you have a whole album of mental pictures from this summer, and this life, to sort through.