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.