Last night I took my kiddos to the local tree lighting ceremony. My husband was working, so it was just the three of us. I love taking them to things like that; it’s one way we F.L.Y. together. The [former] F.O. mentality in me also loves that it was totally free! What can I say? Old habits die hard!
I didn’t know what to expect, but it was surprisingly entertaining considering we’re a smallish community. There were some out-of-tune carols belted out enthusiastically by a third grade class, a short speech by the mayor, a moment of community prayer, and then the countdown to the big moment. Let there be light!
Afterward, our two little blocks of downtown offered up a live orchestra, hot chocolate for all, voting for best window decor, and horse-drawn carriage rides around the square. It was all very quaint and sweet. Of course, I took a zillion ‘perfect’ photos (look to the left, no…step slightly to the right, no…smile a little bigger…okay, now look happy…) to remember, to share, to blog. I mean, that’s just what we do, right?
I have thousands of pictures. They are on my phone and iPad, in my cloud, on my desktop computer, stored on scan discs, and stuck in old albums and cardboard boxes. Heck, there’s even a couple of undeveloped paper cameras sitting on my desk from years ago. I should probably take those in and see what delicious relics are hidden therewithin.
There’s something deep inside us that clings to the precious moments in our lives, and a photo is, after all, a real-time immortalizing of a memory in the making – a literal snapshot in time. We love our photographs.
With the advancement of digital photography, we ushered in a whole new world of click and shoot. Gone were the expensive and numerically limited rolls of film. Gone was the long, anticipatory wait from first click to final revelation – that moment when you found out if you had captured the moment or if you gotten a beautiful picture of your right thumb. Again. I swear about half of my childhood is remembered around the iconic blur of a renegade finger! Gone also was that glorious moment when you paid five bucks for development, eagerly opened the package, and found that your six-year-old had hijacked your camera and taken 36, expensive, close-up photos of your dog’s left ear.
With those restrictions removed we were free to click and delete as many times as our hearts desired until we got the ‘perfect’ shot.
Then along came social media – that blessed sharing of every minute detail of our lives with complete strangers and barely acquaintances. We desperately want people to see our best side – the happy, perfect, cleaned-up, smiling, unbroken, staged, and mostly falsified side of our lives that we share publicly. With social media came the added pressure of displaying our ‘perfected selves’ for the world to see. We started to pursue the glorious, ego-stroking ‘likes’ and began to feel, dare I say, obligated to take 750 shots of every single moment in a never-ending attempt not only to capture it, but to capture it in its utmost and faux perfection. Because, let’s face it: If we zoomed out of most of our ‘perfect’ shots, what we’d really see is a pile of dishes and a screaming child. “STOP CRYING AND LOOK LIKE YOU ARE HAVING FUN FOR THE CAMERA, DARN IT!” Click.
The funny thing is…these thousands of photos – these perfectly staged and filtered gemstones of my life – now sit in their respective niches, unsorted, half forgotten, collecting literal and figurative dust, untouched for years because I’m far too busy to pull them back out and flip through them. Because life keeps on happening. The moments keep on coming way faster than I’d like to acknowledge. Perhaps someday I’ll dust them off and finally finish my daughter’s First Year of Life scrapbook. Probably not. But in the meantime, I keep on gathering photos. Thousands of photos.
At the Christmas festival, after that fantastic moment when the tree was lit (click!) and we walked around a bit taking in the twinkling lights (click!), we decided to take a carriage ride. We stood in line for a long bit and watched the horses (click!) with their colorfully lit carriages come and go (click!). My son made a cute little 4-year-old friend while we waited who was following him everywhere adoringly (click, click!). Santa’s elf, Scrooge, and a couple of snow people wandered by to say hello (click, click, click!). And of course we took a selfie or six to show people online how happy, loving, and completely cozy we are as a family just then (click, click, click, click!). Then while we waited, I scrolled through social media.
Finally, it was our turn to step up into the wagon! Woohooooo! We clapped our hands excitedly as the majestic black horses came to a jingling, jangling, stomping, snorting stop. We climbed into the swaying, creaking wagon as the beasts shifted impatiently, eager to do their assigned job. As I sat down beside my children on the seat and took in the neat view visible between the ears of our magnificent steeds, I reached into my purse for my phone and snapped the ‘perfect’ ten pictures (one of which is above) of the moment (click, click, click…). That’s when I felt my son place his cold little hand imploringly on my arm.
“Please, Mommy” he said, looking up at me with those big, blue eyes that still destroy me, “don’t take any more pictures tonight. You always miss all the neat stuff because you are too busy taking pictures of it. Just be with us tonight. You can look with your eyes and remember with your heart!“
Oh, my heart. Convicted.
There was so much truth and wisdom in those simple, innocent words: See it with your eyes; remember it with your heart. I instantly thought of the 1000s of digital photos filling every nook and cranny of my devices…all of those perfectly staged, filtered, and photo-shopped memories and wondered exactly how many moments I had completely missed while I was busy capturing them? How many times have my children looked up at to find me gazing at a screen instead of them? How many times have I been so busy ‘liking’ someone else’s life (nice tacos you’re eating there, Joe!) while my own was passing me by?
Too many. Far, far too many.
Here’s what I did. I put that phone back in my purse, I took their hands in mine, and for the first time in a long time, I saw it all with my eyes – not through a screen; not in aftermath, not filtered and perfected – with my own two eyes, in person, in the moment. Let me tell you, it was absolutely stunning. I may not have the perfect shot of the rest of that night to file away in my endless stacks for posterity or to share with a social media world that doesn’t really care that deeply for me anyway, but I did give my children all of me the rest of that night. And I will forever remember it in my heart. Isn’t that what matters? Our people?
Maybe I’m the only one living life through a screen but I doubt it. Maybe I’m the only one that spends so much time trying to capture the moments that I’m missing them; but I don’t think so. Maybe I’m the only one who’s so busy liking my friend’s, brother’s, neighbor’s, aunt’s, pastor’s (filtered) taco pictures that I am missing the beauty happening right here in my own life; but probably not. Because everywhere I look I see people who are screen blind to their own lives – faces buried in a device while the ones they love cry out in loneliness and desperation to be seen and remembered.
Whether we’re scrolling through news articles or other people’s fake lives, posting our own perfected experiences to gain likes, or clicking away to capture the moments we should be living…we are spending too much time plastered to a screen and not enough time really seeing the people we love.
Friends, we might be there, but we are not there.
And they are noticing. Our kids, our friends, our spouses… Whether we realize it or not, they are noticing. If I had a dollar for every time one of my ladies have sadly confided in me that, “All he does when he gets home is stare at the phone/iPad/computer…,” I could retire to my own, private, air-and-boat-access-only island. Preferably one devoid of technology.
Our eyes simply cannot be focused on the ones we love when they are constantly focused on a screen. ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ And isn’t our time one of the most precious treasures we possess? It’s limited. Oh, so limited. Moreso in this aviation life.
I am convinced that the best thing we can give our families this year is our presence and not our presents!
Tonight, I want you to ask yourself these important questions: Am I really there with the ones I love when I am there, or am I spending too much time viewing life through a screen? Am I trading the real memories for a box full of forgotten, dusty, staged half-truths. Do I spend so much time trying to capture and project the moments for others to like that I’m missing them myself? Am I scrolling through other people’s lives instead of living the one right in front of me? Am I constantly reaching for the phone instead of my wife, husband, child, mom? Have I hushed, ignored, or even gotten angry with a loved one because they were ‘interrupting’ a comment I was making to someone online who barely matters to me, if at all? Do I automatically reach for and engage the screen at every lull, while standing in every line, sitting at every stoplight…instead of engaging the people sitting right next to me?
If the answer is yes, then Houston, we have a problem – an addiction.
Perhaps it’s time we put away the phones, set aside the tablets, turn off the ringer…and live in the moment with the people sitting right there beside us. Life is too short. They are gone too quickly. We look back and wonder where the time went. Let’s not squander the treasure we have been given.
Our loved ones will thank us. Our lives will be dramatically and positively affected. Our marriages, friendships, and relationships with our children and family will flourish and thrive. The results will be absolutely, breathtakingly stunning, I promise.
Friends, it’s time to look with your eyes and remember with your heart.
I LOVE you, family.
Just Winging It: Prayers for My Pilot Wife (autographed)
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Captain on the Road; First Officer at Home (Gold Bars) Soft Jersey Tee
**header photo Boston Globe via Mashable