The life of a mom-wife-homeschooler-family photographer doesn’t always allow for a lot of alone time. Especially when the kids were younger, I had to carefully carve out time to hear myself think without their constant endearing but exhausting chatter. Now at ages four and seven it is remarkably easier (hold on, mamas of little ones! It does get easier), but when my youngest was one, I started leaving the house every morning at 6:30 a.m. I knew I could be alone, outside, and they would be okay with daddy for half an hour.
This tradition continues, and this morning as I trekked up Green Mountain, I kept craning my neck to see the stunning sunrise happening behind me. The sun was a fiery orange ball slipping between the strips of clouds and the thick haze that hangs at the horizon these days, rising steadily above the city skyline. The clouds to the north were slowly gathering color, at first deep purple, cotton-ball stacks and then eventually soft pink and streaked with rain that was falling in the sky but not on earth. The view to the south was less stunning in comparison, just the light purple of early morning, but something caught my eye and then stopped me in my tracks. Three huge elk were calmly munching their breakfast, watching joggers and bikers zoom past them, oblivious to their presence. I suddenly remembered that a hiker near the trailhead had told me I would see elk on the top of the mountain if I looked for them, but I had nearly missed these monuments of beauty because I was only looking for what sparkles.
This is true in life, I think. We can get so caught up in the magical moments—the first birthdays, the graduations, the weddings—the moments when life sparkles. Everyone’s hair is combed just right, their socks are actually matching, so much effort has gone into the details to make an event feel perfect. But while we wait and wait for these magical moments, we may miss the beauty that sneaks into the mundane: the light on your little one’s curls as she tries to tie her shoes, the smile that lights up her face when she sees a neighbor’s puppy, the smell of your lover when he’s just come from the shower.
These things are around us almost all the time, but we’re so distracted by life’s details that we miss them. It takes discipline—a purposeful slowing down, an effort of the will to stop running from activity to activity—to take in the scene before us. For me, this moment is at the dinner table, when I’m tempted to wolf down my food, get the dishes done, get the kids into bed and call the day done. I have to remind myself that there is no rush. It’s okay to linger and find the beauty in the mundane.
A couple years after we were married, my husband and I lived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We told ourselves as we moved from beautiful Glenwood Springs, Colorado to one of South America’s poorest cities that we would need to find beauty in the people around us and probably not in our surroundings. That turned out to be more true than we knew and much harder than we expected. We can train ourselves, though, whatever our circumstances, to seek out the beauty, to be thankful for the gifts we have been given, rather than constantly waiting for when things look like they do on the screen.
I find this to be true even in my photography with families. I love a good cloudy evening, when I can step back and get all that love and connection plus the stunning beauty of a stack of clouds towering into the sky. But nature doesn’t always play nice, and sometimes doesn’t play at all. Sometimes we get an evening flattened into two dimensions by the haze that won’t seem to leave our horizon, or conversely we get a head-ache bright sun that pushes us into the coolness of the shadows. The trick is to find the beauty, whatever we’ve been given.
I hope you can find your way toward that discipline today, find a way to slow down and take in the beauty you’ve been given rather than rushing around mindlessly and waiting for things to look perfect. After all, if we spend life distracted and waiting for sparkles, aren't we kind of missing the point?