I have a butterfly garden in my backyard (you have seen several pictures of it here on my blog.) I don’t know if it is the heat or the amount of rain, but this year this little patch of dirt with the purpose of attracting butterflies has been particularly successful. In response, I keep taking pictures of them…this is only one of many. I’m like that…when I see something especially beautiful, especially something in nature, I take multiple pictures of it…an attempt to capture the feeling that it invokes in me. Yet, the picture, while certainly enjoyable during later viewing, never really does justice to its subject in the way that I hope when I am snapping away.
I had an interesting experience last week in Virginia Beach. I was visiting the area with my friend. Her father, who lives there, took us out in his boat one evening. It was an absolutely beautiful evening. The water was calm and the views were magnificient. For a moment, I regretted that I had not brought my camera along for the ride….what glorious pictures I might have captured! Yet, the regret was quickly replaced by relief! I was actually surprised when I realized that relief was the feeling that I was experiencing…I was relieved that I could completely relax and enjoy the full experience of the moment. Because I felt no urgency to capture the moment for later, I could more fully enjoy the experience in that moment. It was a fabulous ride and, when offered the opportunity to take another boat ride the next evening, I went again….without my camera.
I was reading a new book today that I am really enjoying. It is called Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense and it is by N.T. Wright. It is fabulous in many ways, but the section below about the transience of beauty really resonated with me:
Beauty, like justice, slips through our fingers. We photograph the sunset, but all we get is the memory of the moment, not the moment itself. We buy the recording, but the symphony says something different when we listen to it at home. We climb the mountain, and though the view from the summit is indeed magnificent, it leaves us wanting more; even if we could build a house there and gaze all day at the scene, the itch wouldn’t go away. Indeed, the beauty sometimes seems to be in the itching itself, the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied.
When I read this paragraph, I was momentarily surprised by how the author had put into words a feeling that I had suspected I alone felt. Each year, when we go to the beach, I am overwhelmed anew by the intensity of my experience of the ocean…I try to breathe more deeply to capture the smells…I try to listen more carefully to memorize the sounds…I take pictures like this one here so that I can imprint the view in my mind’s eye. Yet I leave each year unsatisfied…it is never enough. I can never take in enough to last me all year…we stayed two weeks last year and it still wasn’t enough. When I read the paragraph that I shared above, I realized something that I suspect I had always known…it’s not about enough time or enough pictures. I can’t capture enough pictures of the oceans, pictures of my flowers, pictures of the mountains, pictures of my butterflies to satisfy. These glimpses of beauty are just that–glimpses. They are hints of a beauty that is too big for me now, a magnificence that I can’t comprehend yet, a glory that is still out of my reach. That longing is just a reminder that I’m not home yet. The best is yet to come.