Last month my beloved little sister graduated with her master's degree. Along with hundreds of other families, we crowded an auditorium at Case Western Reserve University, waiting for our loved one's name to be called, for them to receive their diplomas, tangible proof that the years of overnighters spent writing, researching, and reading were all coming to fruition.
As I watched the graduates' faces, they conveyed mixed emotions--exuberance, relief, peace, elation. The loved ones faces were harder to gauge, as most were pressed to viewfinders of video cameras or watching through display screens on digital cameras.
Instead of observing this monumental occasion and watching it unfold in real time--the culmination of almost two decades of education, hundreds of thousands of well-spent dollars, and infinite wisdom gained--most people were witnessing it through the filter of electronic media.
It made me pause.
By recording every moment big and small, are we really living? Can we fully experience an event if we're simultaneously trying to capture it for posterity?
Among my friends, I am known for two contradictory traits:
My dear friend Sarah refers to my camera as a "big blue hole" for photos. (My camera is blue.)
A few years ago, my camera was an omnipresent accessory only when I traveled. At some point, perhaps when I was living overseas and I saw every moment as an opportunity for adventure, my camera became a standard fixture in my purse.
These days, inside even my tiniest evening bag you'll find: lip balm, change purse, license, debit card, mints, phone, keys, and yes, camera.
The weekend of that graduation was a special time for my family. Not only were we all celebrating my sister's academic prowess, but we were together, happy, and at peace--not an easy task with any family! The previous night, during a long wait for food at the , I played photographer, capturing glimpses of my almost-grown siblings, the sister of honor and her husband, my best friend/honorary sister, and me and my boyfriend. I felt like the mood was rare, and I wanted to remember it.
The next day, at graduation, I wanted to watch. A couple hundred feet from the stage, smack in the middle of a row, my camera had to zoom in very close to capture the graduates' faces. With plenty of other cameras around, I decided to just sit back and watch. I didn't take any photos of the graduation, though we did take plenty of family photos after the ceremony.
I thought about all those video recordings, photos, and even Tweets and status updates. If you fail to share it with the world, is an event any less important? Does anyone really watch videos of awards ceremonies later on? Who really wants to see hundreds of photos from your last vacation?
Since that revelation, I've tried to think twice before pulling out my camera. Is it necessary to take photos of every moment? No. Yoga, my brother's high-school graduation ceremony, a casual rooftop dinner with close friends, a visit with my grandmother have all passed with nary a photograph to immortalize them. Do those memories fade without photographic representation? Perhaps someday, but not yet. Are they any less important? Were they any less special to me?
This quotation, from one of my favorite authors and spiritual teachers, sprung to mind:
"To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important. This total reversal of the truth accounts for the fact that in the ego mode the mind is so dysfunctional. It is always concerned with keeping the past alive, because without it - who are you?" -- Eckhart Tolle
Who I am right now is just as important--and often more--as whom I was and whom I will be.
Instead of focusing on capturing every moment, I'm going to focus on living every moment.
"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." -- Henry Miller
I'll still photograph the high points, but in the mean time, I'll be leaving my camera turned off more often. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but a thousand words speak what photos can't.
Do you think people spend more time capturing life than actually living it? Are there times when you would prefer that people just not pull out the cameras?
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