I was walking through my little downtown village yesterday on my way back to my car after a lovely respite of coffee and a stroll with a friend when I passed by a woman walking alongside her young son riding on a little scooter. I couldn’t help but notice the two as the boy had stopped abruptly and was blocking the narrow sidewalk, forcing me to move around him. As I was walking past them, I noticed his mother lean down and take a photo of the scooter with her phone. I only took a quick glance at this as I was quickly walking by but I couldn’t help but wonder why the mother was snapping a shot of her son’s scooter. Was she about to chronicle her afternoon in town with her son on Facebook? Was she creating some type of artsy image for her Instagram followers? Was there some critical component of her son’s scooter that needed to be repaired and she needed to take a photo of it to be sure she recalled it correctly? Whatever the case, it made me think about the amount of time we spend caught up with our devices, capturing and chronicling our life experiences rather than, perhaps, actually experiencing them.
Last weekend, when we were in Boston, we attended a Major League Lacrosse game at Harvard University. Because both my husband and kids are big lax fans, this was the cornerstone of our trip and we did it in style. We got seats on the sidelines which allowed us to be just feet away from the action. Almost like sitting court side at a basketball game, aside from the aluminum fence protecting us from wayward lacrosse balls, we were practically in the game. Even I, the least obsessed fan in the family, was caught up in the excitement of being so close to the action. When players ran out-of-bounds and bumped into the wall just inches in front of us, I gasped with both awe and just a little bit of fear, expecting that I was going to get pummeled by some of these big boys. Despite our proximity to the game, I found myself spending a good portion of my time taking photos on my phone to try to capture the experience. What I recognized, even at the time, was that my iPhone camera did not have the capability of showcasing how close we were to the game and that I simply could not zoom in enough to replicate what I was able to see with my eyes. Unlike many other events where you can close in on something that would otherwise be difficult to see, in this case, my photos were actually distorting my perfect view. Nonetheless, I felt the need to log all of this for my social media followers. It seemed like the event would become a non-existent memory if I did not have a phone full of photos to prove it.
I thought about how I might use these photos or if, like many others, they would sit on my phone until such time that I deemed it appropriate to delete them. Right before we left for our trip, I upgraded to a new phone with less memory and had to go through the task of deleting many of the more than 1,500 photos I had stored. As I went through picture after picture, I was puzzled as to why they were even taken (surely some random Facebook post) or why I had not deleted them sooner. When I left the game, I figured I would download my new collection into iphoto on my computer so we could look back at them years from now, Most likely, though, in a year or so I will wonder why the hell I took so many damned photos of the game when I could not even make out the number or names of the players. I’d be puzzled by the 20 shots I took of the very same guy just to see if I could get him catching the ball on the run. Would my memory not be able to store this information? Could I possibly share this story with others with words, rather than pictures or did the photos make the moment? Would the memories evoked from the photos actually be reflective of the real experience or would they create some type of contorted image losing so much of the richness and reality of the actual experience?
Living in the present – in the real here and now – is often quite challenging for me because my life has so many different compartments. I travel often for work, have lots of different groups of friends and feel like my life exists in so many different places. While my heart is always firmly placed with my family, I often find myself thinking about wherever I am not or whomever I am not with. I miss my family like crazy when I am out-of-town and I pine for my friends and colleagues when I am at home. More than just the typical working mother complications, my experience goes far beyond the guilt of not being able to devote myself completely to one thing or another. I experience a bizarre “grass is always greener” existence that usually leaves me floating on a plane above my life and several degrees away from actually living it. I always think about how I can capture various moments to go back and visit with them when longing strikes but wonder what exactly it is I am storing away for safe keeping. I do appreciate the value of having recorded memories and have a rich display of beautiful photographs of treasured times throughout my house. I will often linger beside the sofa table in my living room, recapturing moments of special occasions as I stare at the photos, tucked into hand-selected frames. My mind will wander back, trying to find the thoughts or feelings in the eyes of those photographed, allowing me to experience, once again, the wonder of those moments. But, of course, those memories are fleeting and they only capture a split second in time. They are not true reflections. They are filtered through the lens.
Yesterday, when I got into my car after seeing the young boy and his mother, I thought less about my own bad habits of looking at the world through my camera lens and thought more about how much I am separated from my life even when my phone is safely tucked away. I have made it a habit recently to keep my phone at a distance so as to not spend all my time looking at social media, in search of who might have texted me or checking up on the pesky emails that find their way to me all day and night. I have tried to untether myself from the 21st century equivalent of checking my answering machine to see if anyone has called. They can wait. My children cannot. My life cannot.
The other night we were dining with friends and, as we sat outside on their deck, catching up after not seeing each other for quite some time, I found my mind wandering to other people in my life, wondering what they were up to, thinking about how long it had been since I had spoken to them. I caught myself and immediately refocused. I felt guilty about letting myself stray and not offering my undivided attention to these very important friends who I so looked forward to spending time with. Just days before I had been daydreaming while I sat with my kids at the pool, wishing I could see these friends and now, here I was, allowing my mind to wander off once again.
I’m trying to honor my life and see every experience as a gift. Being able to be present in every moment is a challenge but the payoff is so rich and rewarding. Letting go of everything except what is happening right here, right in front of me, is a truly blissful state and one that eludes me most of the time. But I keep trying. It is hard to discipline myself to experience my life rather than capturing it digitally and I acknowledge that the reality that I experience through my iPhone is somewhat a distorted version of the truth. I will continue to balance my desire to be able to look back and reflect on those special moments and be able to peruse through files of images to relive some wonderful times with the need to actively engage in my life. I recognize that the best possible way to actually experience my life is to be present and living it, looking at it through my own two eyes, rather than through the somewhat misleading looking-glass.