Pictures of Common Things

When people take pictures of common things, it makes you stop and wonder.  It makes me stop and wonder.  It happened to me today. 

I was leaving school late this afternoon.  We ended class in a small chapel on campus.  As we left the chapel, a group of 20-30 young people were making way into the one-room sanctuary.  They were pressing pictures, nodding and bowing and saying hello.  They were smiling and staring through the little screens on their cameras.  When I got by them, more of their friends were outside.  They, too, were taking pictures.  They were capturing the exterior of the chapel, taking in the trees at the side, and snapping pictures of the main seminary building.

A memory came to me.  I made a tiny commitment when I first entered Garrett-Evangelical as a student in 2002.  I had received a great deal of support to come to seminary, personal and institutional support.  I promised myself and God that I would find a way every time I came to the campus to express gratitude.  It eventuated into me bowing my head as I approached the door.  It was a small gesture of thanks.  It would go unnoticed by everybody except me and God.  I would know and God would know; that was enough.  I’m happy that I still observe the practice.  Even though the glass casing with Garrett-Evangelical in white letters is gone, I still, before I open the main doors, express my gratitude in the same mostly unnoticed way.

But when I saw that group and all their cameras, it brought me back to something.  It’s easy to forget that first experience of not knowing a building or a campus or a group.  Every new experience is new.  People are strange and unfamiliar and, therefore, interesting.  Little is boring.  Little is common.

One of the marks of life–whether it’s the writing life or the spiritual life or life in relationship to others–is noticing.  Living means noticing.  Seeing things that are usual and normal and finding something beautiful in them.  Things get old.  We pass by buildings with windows that tell stories.  We rush conversations because they lose our interest.  We conclude that a person is less significant because we’ve seen them so much or heard all their stories.  We move beyond people so quickly down the street, going from one place to another, that we miss the remarkable because it is simply in plain view.

I didn’t have my camera today.  But I took another picture in my head before leaving campus.

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2 thoughts on “Pictures of Common Things

  1. I feel this way almost every time I play with my kids. It’s kind of surreal that they actually have so much joy. I remember being a kid, but I don’t really remember having that pure, unadulterated joy that they seem to burst with. Probably because my childhood and the environment in which I grew up was very different from theirs (and I thank God that theirs is different). But, it really is the simple, common things that I see in a whole new way (through their eyes) that now brings me such joy.

    The other day, I was pushing a shopping cart with Ian sitting in the cart as I pushed. As soon as we exited through the automatic doors into the parking lot, he felt the gentle warmth of the sun on his skin and this big brilliant smile suddenly overtook his chubby little face. I’m talking an ‘eyes closed, head thrown back while holding on tight to the cart’ kind of smile.This look of utter and complete joy beamed from his small little frame, and at that moment, I thought of the world as a beautiful place. Before that moment, I was thinking about how I needed to get home quickly to get dinner prepared and whether I should’ve bought that marinade to go with that chicken, or if I even remembered to thaw out the chicken, etc. etc., but it seemed everything in the world paused when I saw that expression on my baby’s face.

    I try daily to take in little moments like that. It can come through the delightful smile of a child, the grandeur of an old building, or the comforting voice of a best friend. Whatever the source, I believe it’s a way that we can reconnect with an often neglected side of who we are.

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