By Laura Moore

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"Do you want me to take the picture for you?" I asked a girl and her parents standing at the edge of the New Haven Green.

"Oh yes. That would be wonderful," the mother replied with a British tilt to her words and a smile that bespoke relief. She handed me the camera and joined her husband and daughter, as the three of them basket wove their arms across one another's back.

I snapped four photographs and then directed them away from the street, so they'd have the green behind them. I took several more pictures and then handed the camera back to the grinning father. 

"Thank you so much," he said, bowing his head a little. "Your life will be blessed." 

The three of them turned and strolled diagonally down the limestone walkway; I stood and smiled, wishing J could have seen the interaction. My husband frequently laughs at my unremitting offers to take photographs of families and couples, and though he never intervenes, I am fully aware that he finds it a bit odd that I often run up to strangers when I perceive angst, gathering folks together so I can take symmetrical pictures of individuals I have never met before in my life. No matter where we go, how big of a rush we are in, or how inconvenient or disruptive my offer to take a picture happens to be for the people I am with, each time I see someone in need, I approach, I offer and I click.

I'm not sure why I feel so compelled to offer my services, but I do it no matter where we are. Perhaps deep down it makes me feel better when I find myself in position to ask others to take a picture of me, or it could be that I love to imagine future moments when the picture surfaces and stories unfold, allowing noteworthy characters to etch their imprint on the scroll of human existence. Or even more than all of that, perhaps it is quite simply because I love how excited at least one person in the group is when I reach for the camera and solve the who-will-be-left-out-of-the-picture dilemma for them.  

See, there is something magical about capturing moments, whether they are images or stories or disparate thoughts scribbled on scrap slips of paper.  Most of life is spent rushing and reveling in responsibility; very little time is spent in a space where we record details and revelations, wonders and dreams.  And so when I see the chance to offer my assistance, to help someone grab hold of a fleeting flash of life, I can't help but step forward and help them in their endeavor. 

Most people just say thank you, reclaim their device and analyze the image in private. Others laugh instantly at facial expressions, coaching one another to smile or look up or keep their eyes open when the next picture opportunity arises. And occasionally someone will decide to reposition the group and ask if I wouldn't mind taking another shot. I always comply. In fact, the more experience I gain behind other people's lenses, the more I tend to coach the group myself. Doing my best to help them produce the best possible shot, I turn them, try to make them laugh, move up or down or side to side until I can secure the proper angle that seems to produce the most aesthetically pleasing souvenir.  

Since the entire effort is focused on capturing memories for others, most of my interactions are not too memorable for me. Neither of us share personal details or inside jokes, and we don't ask questions or interweave our lives within the trappings of time. When I offer to take a picture, I suspend my life, hold time still for someone else, and once I trap the image, I pass the looking glass back to its owner and walk away. 

This past Saturday, however, the British father on the other side of the lens made the interaction more than a simple exchange. In issuing a very genuine blessing for my life, he stopped me cold in my tracks. He was the one who walked away, reconnecting with his family, sauntering down a footpath, sharing simple joys with people he loves. I stood still, watching them depart, overflowing with an inexplicable gurgle of delight over the a tiny collection of words that he would most likely never recall. 

His words weren't particularly novel, so it wasn't what he said that touched me. It was the sincerity of how he said it. And as I stood there watching him escape the moment, I realized how rarely strangers pause and truly connect. Most people say thank you, but then they rush off to secure the next activity, or to pursue the next endeavor. Rarely do we lock eyes in innocent sincerity. Rarely do we slice through formalities and issue a thank you that carries the weight of true appreciation. 

Following that photograph, I walked away with a lighter, exceedingly more positive disposition, and during the hour and a half I had to kill until my husband returned from a run with his former teammates, I enjoyed every minute of my jaunt around Yale's campus alone. Poised to be blessed, all around me, I felt the presence of the past: the pulse of lost hearts, the echoes of brilliance, the remains of old ambitions. And I watched new moments unfold in young minds as they bounded within the borders of an intellectual utopia.

Making my way through campus, a blanket of human ingenuity warmed me, the pages of stories lulled me to dream, and the promise of possibility invigorated me to act. Gratitude filled me as I pondered freedom, love, family, good health, and time to think and learn and create and explore. I felt the power of  history holding me up, the joy of memories filling me to the brim, and the fire of dreams pressing me to climb marble walls. 

Mid-jaunt, my phone vibrated in my pocket, and I saw that my husband made it back to the hotel. Before I returned to join him--before I drew the curtain on my journey--I reached for the camera and paused time. I pointed toward the tunnel leading me away from Old Campus Yard, and I caught the light piercing an open gate, inviting me to cross the threshold.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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Glancing at my social media pages this morning, I couldn't help but be inspired as I gazed at the beaming mugs of children posing for first day pictures, showing off spiffed up threads, eager grins and signs bearing the name of their teacher and the grade they are about to enter.

Those images always wet my eyes when I consider the significance of the moment they capture, when I think about what the next 186 school days will hold for the children smiling for the camera.

As those kids stand on their front porch, or in the hallway, or on the lawn of their school, each of them is hovering on the precipice of a new beginning, a new chance, a new set of rules, a new batch of challenges and a new well of opportunities. They are poised for adventure--for the next leg of their journey--toes propped and ready to carry them forward where they will engage in work and play that will help them build, rebuild, create and recreate.

Over 186 school days, they will embrace new skills as they learn how to assign words to ideas, manipulate numbers, ask questions, create beauty, generate sounds or connect their present to the past. And their experiences will press them to widen and deepen both their minds and their hearts each time they are called to unearth their sometimes sturdy, sometimes wavering, sometimes strangled conviction to stand up for what is right. They will grow through their experiences, they will learn the bounds of their own strength, and they will discover how courageous and powerful they are each time they make themselves vulnerable.

Though they certainly arrive with the baggage of previous years: an armful of mistakes, a handful of doubters, and a stretch of road littered with bumps, the fact remains that on this day, their slate is strikingly clean.  The grade card is clear, the sketchbook is blank, the pencils are full of graphite, the call lists and team rosters are empty and the possibilities are endless. When they stand for that picture, they have no idea who might cross their path, which future thoughts might fill them with wonder, or who they might become.  They have no idea which adventures will shape their hearts or which challenges will make them shine.  

All they know is that today is the beginning. The scary, exciting, highly anticipated beginning. The line in the sand, the start of the race, the dawn of a new chapter.  The date on the calendar they don't want to think about until it is finally here, waiting for them, begging for them to arrive.

But once it comes, they do too.

And so should we.

See, in my opinion, we should all arrive--figuratively, of course--and celebrate on the first day of school. Regardless of how many years have passed since we stood smiling on our front porch, once a year, we should all dig down deep and discover the same courage we ask our kids to find. In honor of them, we should open our arms and embrace our fears. We should hype up our hopes and wonder what's possible. We should set new goals, anticipate new joys, meet new people, inspire new dreams, explore new opportunities, defend justice, reset, re-begin and re-imagine.

Today, we should bare our teeth, hold up our chins, dance to our own little tune, swim within a fresh wave of optimism, and tell our feet to march forward, onward, upward toward a renewed, reinvigorated version of ourselves. Today, we should try--just like them--to learn how we can make the world just a little bit better, how we can sift through the injustice and sadness, the oppression, violence and despair, and push through to the other side.  How we can crack open our hearts, steady our voice, and brace our legs to stand up, to reach out, and to reach in.

Happy first day of school, everyone. Go get 'em.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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It's easy to say it out loud: to look into someone's eyes and own what I daydream about every single day of my life. It's easy to think what if and when and someday I will when my dreams hover like white puffs swarming in mid-December air, visible as long as I keep talking, fleeting the moment my lips close.

It's easy to say because in the deepest bowels of my existence, it turns out that I do want every last thing I dream about. I do want to pour myself on paper and toss it out to the world and reach some distant soul who needed to read what I had to say at some particular moment in time. I do want to make something that lasts, that captures our lives, today, and add it to the enormous time capsule of contemporary history. I do want to drill into my brain, set up a rig, and shuttle my imaginative musings out of hibernation and into my fingers so I can come alive. I do want to open a package, find a book with my name on it, hold it up to my nose, shut my eyes, and breathe it in. 

Like me, there are millions of people busy wanting and wishing and wondering. We are all trapped in a cobweb of hope, our fingers and toes stuck, tangled in strings of fear, doubt, duty, and insecurity. All of us dangle there, hanging, our past behind us, our dreams playing out across the room. We can see them vividly. We can even see the people who have already achieved them: those who overcame adversity, those who hit it big on YouTube or Twitter or Instagram, those who just so happened to catch the right person's attention through a forward of a forward of a forward. 

Those who simply took a risk and managed to break free.

They're all there.  

And I envy them.  

I waste a gajillion minutes every single day envying them, wishing I could pull myself loose string by string, and join the conversation, wishing my dream didn't seem so faint and real life didn't seem so comfortable.

But then, a few days ago, in the midst of my comfort, I came across a video of Shonda Rhimes delivering her 2014 commencement address to Dartmouth College. Several of my classmates from Dartmouth posted the video on Facebook, and curious, I took a moment to watch.

"When people give these kinds of speeches, they usually tell you all kinds of wise and heartfelt things" Rhimes said a few minutes in, after explaining to the audience that she doesn't like giving speeches and she is afraid she is going to "pass out" or "die" or "poop her pants."  

"They tell you: Follow your dreams. Listen to you spirit. Change the world. Make your mark. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Embrace failure. Dream. Dream and dream big. As a matter of fact, dream and don't stop dreaming until all of your dreams come true."

She paused.  Then, she said, "I think that's crap."

As she spoke, the videographer panned the graduate section, showcasing an array of black gowns adorned in yellow and orange and red and white hoods. Just behind them, we could see a few rows of undergraduates, some in the traditional black garb, others sitting on top of their split-open gown, shoulders bared, presumably hoping to snag a few rays as they float in time, lost in limbo between everything they knew and everything they dreamed.

I remember being one of them.  I remember wanting to stop and greet honorary graduates Hank Aaron and J.K. Rowling as I made my way to President Wright's outstretched hand. I remember the weight of my degree. I remember leaving the stage, full of pride, full of sadness, full of grief. I remember wallowing in the strange reality that everything I worked for my entire life was ending, and I was now free to fly.

I remember feeling lost. I remember being scared. I remember wondering where my path would go.

That girl needed to hear what Rhimes was saying.  

Heck, this girl still needs to hear what she is saying.

I leaned closer to the screen.

"I think a lot of people dream," Rhimes began again. "And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing....

Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change."

I paused the video. I felt the words on my tongue: dreaming without doing is crap. 

Crap.

I know that. As the girl who threw a hundred pitches rain or shine every single day of her life until the last day of her softball career, I knew it. As the girl who wrote ten page papers instead of five page papers, I knew it. As the girl who stayed up late to grade her essays in one week's time rather than two or three weeks time, I knew it. 

I absolutely knew it.

I've always known it.  

Anyone who has ever pursued anything worthwhile knows it.

I sat in my seat fully convicted. As much as I live it in every other area of my life, I don't live it with my dreams anymore, and I'm not sure how I ended up here as a non-doer or a partial doer or a when-I-have-time doer: as a dreamer. 

That wasn't who I was when I sat on those white chairs littering the Dartmouth Green.  It wasn't who I was when my starry eyes led me to New York City or my heavy heart propelled me to graduate school or my free spirit flew me to Florence, Italy.

It wasn't who I was and it is not who I want to be.

I no longer want to continue living in my brain and floating in the sky.

I want to push my words to the edge of the airplane and let them dive face first into a vat of ink, tumble onto parchment, and nestle into a piece of paper anchored to the earth. 

I want to put myself out there. I no longer want to sit back, overwhelmed, unsure where to start.

I want to write. 

And so I must write.

If I want my dreams to become real, I need to chase after them. I need to own them, dissect them, explore them, understand them and pursue them.  

I need to stop theorizing and fantasizing, and instead, discover the gold nugget postulate that explains how someone like me can defy gravity. I need to sharpen my voice, find my path, understand my market, surrender my inhibitions and write.

I need to make a schedule, sign my name to it and work hard. String, by string, I need to pull myself down, steady my feet and find my way. It's about time I get off of my butt and stop making excuses for letting my writing dream trail further and further away as I focused on my students, or on moving or on my wedding or on becoming a mom or on any of the other thousands of things that simply make up real life.

Shonda Rhimes is right: dreaming without doing is crap. 

And so, after a year long break, I'm back in the blogging sphere. I'm jumping in headfirst. I'm ready to learn. I'm ready to work. I'm ready to get reacquainted with the person I want to be.

I'm ready to do.