By Laura Moore
"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.