It was the most perfect spring day in a little town outside of Milan…
Christian had ventured off to find an ATM machine as I walked into the cutest, most colorful gelato shop. It was a quiet, slow day in Italy – a Sunday – and I was the only customer in the shop. The owner, a middle-aged man wearing a white apron, offered me a kind smile as I held up my hands to make the international sign of “take a picture.” He nodded to my request to snap some photos of his sweet store and I began clicking away. I finally made my way back around to the counter where the gelato was, admiring all of the colors laid out in front of my lens and dreaming of how great all of these pictures would look on my blog. I looked up from my camera for just one quick second and saw him standing there, holding out to me a spoonful of one of the gelatos.
I quickly snapped a picture of the moment, like the crazy person I am, and then realized it was time to put the camera down. I couldn’t speak Italian, no, and it was confirmed that he knew very little English, but we still had moments to be shared and I no longer wanted to experience them behind the lens. I slipped my camera into my purse and thanked him while I tried the free spoonful. He waited, ever so intently, anxious to see my reaction over the flavor (mango) I’d just tried. This was more than just a spoonful of gelato; this was a man who had just gifted me a piece of his hard work, a small piece of his country – all for me to taste and absorb and take with me in my memories. I gave him a thumbs up, to which he laughed, which made me laugh. There I stood, with this sweet old man in Italy – laughing. Christian eventually came back and was surprised to see this shop owner and I laughing together over something that wouldn’t be as funny if I’d tried to retell it to him in that moment. Out of all of the amazing things I experienced while in Italy, my moment with my new Italian gelato-making friend was my favorite, and I was so glad I’d put my camera down so that I might fully experience it fully.
“Our happiest moments as a tourist always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” -Lawrence Block
If you’ve been a reader of this space for awhile, you’ve probably heard me mention this thing I do – “snapshot of the soul.” It’s when I feel a moment deep in my soul and take a heart-felt snapshot of that moment so that I don’t forget it… so that I can keep it forever. I literally take pause and mentally take a picture of the place and the smells and the feels and the colors. Many of my snapshot of the soul moments are of time spent with my grandparents, or evenings on the back porch with my best friends and a wine bottle, glasses clinking. They are of quiet mornings, watching the sun rise with a hot cup of coffee, or afternoons spent driving through the country and acknowledging the beauty that is found in big white fluffy clouds. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to take more snapshot of the soul pictures vs. a million actual pictures on my phone/camera, and I’ve found that I remember more details about the snapshot of the soul moment than I do with an actual picture. And it’s because I forced myself to take pause. When the screen is removed, there is nothing left to do but truly be IN the moment, seeing things with your eyes and feeling them with your heart – without worrying about focus, filters, likes, and how we might fit it into a blog post.
When I was in Paris last year, I was so surprised by the fact that not once did I see a Parisian on their phone or computer while out and about. Instead, they were fully immersed in conversation, in a book, or in their tiny cup of espresso. It was so refreshing to see and in turn made me feel like quite the outsider and tourist anytime I pulled out my camera. I’ll admit that I may have taken a few hundred photos during our time there (first time ever in Paris, hello!), but the irony to all of this is that I have yet to print and frame even ONE of those hundreds of pictures – over a year later! But, if you were to ask me about our time there, I could spend hours telling you about how the pink flowered trees seemed to give the morning sun a flower crown, or how seeing the statue of Venus at the Louvre made me cry – because I made sure to take snapshots (of the soul!) of both of those moments.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all about collecting pictures and filling my home with photo albums, and I seriously LOVE Instagram, but I think the point to all of this is to simply bring awareness to how camera-happy we have become… so much so that we might be missing important moments, important conversations. We must not forget to also put the camera down every now and then so we can fully immerse ourselves in the details of those moments. I think there’s room for both, do you?
My trips have taught me so much about new places, new people, myself, and surprisingly – about what’s really important in this life: living it.
Will you remember to put the camera down this summer?
A version of this post was originally first shared on 6/22/15 over at Best Kept Self.