I love order. When I was a child, my parents entertained often. My mother would remind me to clean my room and I would even tidy my drawers just in case a party guest chose to inspect them.
My bookshelves are categorized, and the fiction books are by author. In my kitchen, items are stored with like items, and all labels face front, of course. Not all my life is so neat and tidy. Having children entails a certain amount of dirt and chaos. But if I had my druthers, my house would be clean, organized, and serene all the time.
My love of order applies to numbers, too. Many years ago, my phone number was 665-3298. I loved it. Each number was one digit less than the one before it (except two and nine, of course, but three squared is nine), and all of them are on the same side of the keypad. I had a post office box once that was 842, and my zip code ended in 8642. Everyone with a number fixation is nodding. You understand.
So imagine my thrill when I realized it was November 11, 2011. In just a few minutes it would be 11:11:11am. Many times I have wanted to observe the clock ticking over some satisfying string of numbers. An example would be 11:12:13 on August 9, 2010, or 08:08:08 on August 8, 2008. But inexplicably, I had missed all the ideal time/date sequences of the last eight years.
I pulled out my digital camera and waited, with the clock on my computer maximized. I wasn't going to miss this one. The seconds ticked down as I watched through the viewfinder of my camera, and—click! I got it! I looked at my computer to enjoy the moment, and . . . wait. . . it was already 11:11:15. I had missed it after all!
No, as you can see, I got the picture. But I missed experiencing the moment. I captured it on film, so to speak, so that I could go back and relive it. But I hadn’t lived the moment in the first place because I was recording it for posterity instead. Somehow, the thrill was gone.
My son graduated magna cum laude from one of the top universities for his major. I was so proud of him. I walked most of the way around the stadium to find the best place to savor the moment as I watched him receive his diploma . . . through the viewfinder of my camera. I felt let down, as if I had actually missed this important milestone in his life instead of witnessing it.
Why did it become more important to me to capture the present in a static medium for the future than to live fully in the moment? What is truly more important—the perfect picture, with me necessarily distanced from emotion by the camera, or the imperfect yet emotionally-evocative memory?
I love taking pictures, don’t get me wrong. And I love seeing the astounding once-in-a-lifetime photos where serendipity and camera dance together. But I am so very glad that I did not have a camera in my hands when my son kissed his brand-new bride at the altar. Do I remember it perfectly? No. But I remember how I felt as I lived perfectly and altogether present in that moment.
A child delights in life, both the extraordinary and the mundane. I remember walking on the hard crust of the record snowfall that turned our yard to fairyland. I remember sitting on my swing eating watermelon and spitting the seeds. I remember touching the Liberty Bell. I remember the magic of pulling peanuts from the ground. I remember seeing the Mona Lisa. I remember sailing into the New York harbor past the Statue of Liberty after years overseas. I remember flying a kite so high it was a tiny red dot in the bright blue sky. I remember climbing trees until the branches were so thin they bent under my weight.
My prayer is that I have learned my lesson, that I will live my life with the eyes, enthusiasm, and engagement of a child, not just observe it through a viewfinder. It’s a choice, I know. I want to grow into the best things about childhood until I make that choice every day. Every moment.