We are in late summer, here in Michigan, in the lower third of our mitten-shaped state. Julie picked me up last week at 6:30 – before the sun had risen above the line of trees that is always on the horizon at this dot on the map. We were hoping to find that perfect country scene; interesting subject matter, a perfect angle to the sun, and the morning mist hanging over the fields. We felt the excitement of finding this photographer’s piece of heaven because we had stumbled upon them before.
This was serious, maybe because we know the season is short and maybe our seasons are numbered. As we drove we talked about how it would be good if we could scout locations before our outings. But our landscape is pretty homogeneous, no distinct mountain peaks – just rolling farmlands. Those magic photographic moments happen when we are at the right place when the sun and clouds and land/air temperatures all come together to create that magic moment. We know the local terrain and have been disappointed many times when we went somewhere thinking it would all come together for a perfect sunrise.
We were feeling the pressure of getting to that unknown magic place before the sun got above the skyline. We headed south, then west so we could see the illuminations of the rising sun on the landscape, then south again, going down dirt roads, going much faster than our usual relaxing crawl. It just wasn’t happening even though there was rising mist in many places, the sky was mostly clear, and the fields have their late summer beauty on.
And I realized that I wasn’t enjoying this mad rush to find the perfect experience. I don’t remember if I said as much, probably I did. In any case we decided to just stop because the sun was starting to shine through the trees and we maybe needed to let the joy of photography just happen within the situation we were given.
I hear my inner voice saying, “Listen up, Pat. There’s a lesson here.” I am going through another phase of growing (old) pains. I have been thinking about all the dreams I had, the opportunities I didn’t take advantage of because I chose different paths. I’ve been thinking of all the opportunities that I thought may have been possible for me but probably weren’t – even under the best of conditions. I have been thinking about all those ‘could of, should of, would of’ experiences. I have been thinking too much in an attempt to find meaning in my current retired life. My mind has been rushing down dirt roads trying to find the perfect image to capture the meaning of my life. And in the process I forgot to enjoy the memory of what was and take a gentle, open look around at what is.
It happened once again on last week’s photo shoot. When I stop driving towards the perfect ‘what if’, when I plant my feet firmly in the reality of today, when I take a deep breath and take in where I am at, using all my senses, I see the beauty of my now. But the fog hanging over last week’s fields reflects my foggy thinking about my life story. Do I believe in a God who had a plan for my life, who wanted to use me to make the world a better place, who still cares about me? Do I believe that I possessed an element of self-determination in the decisions I have made and can still make even though there are real limitations in what can be accomplished? These are existential questions, not questions that can be answered with scientific evidence. Although I have a mind that has been trained in scientific theory and I believe decisions should be based on a careful evaluation of scientific data, I am still a thinker. I still wrestle with the existential questions that can’t find resolutions from hard data – they need hard thinking.
I suspect I will be writing about these existential questions some more in the coming weeks. I just finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It awakened many of my existential questions and I plan on reading it again – at a slower pace while taking notes on my personal reactions to this story. If you are interested in reading/rereading it, maybe we can create a virtual book club by linking together our posts written in reaction to the ideas put forth in this novel.