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2013 Grateful 24

I was going through some photos this morning and found a couple that made me stop and think about shadows and mirror images.

IMG_6314 (800x592)Plutarch, that Ancient Greek author had something when he said: I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better. I’ve had cause to reflect on this in recent months and know that no matter how difficult it might have been at the time, having friends who don’t pull any punches when it comes to offering their (un)solicited opinions regarding something I’ve said or done definitely gives me a new perspective of my reality.

That’s not for one minute to say that I believe it all – it is simply their opinion, offered in the spirit of friendship. There’s a difference between empathy and sympathy and no matter what the dictionaries say, I’ve learned that for the former, you need to have lived through a similar experience yourself before you can ever hope to really understand the feeling, while the latter is guided more by concern about the effect the feeling has had.

IMG_6322 (800x592)I’ve been known to offer my two cents’ worth of wisdom, either solicited or unsolicited, and while I might stand convinced that what I say has value, it too is simply  an opinion. Whether or not you take it on board is a matter of choice.

But when I got to thinking about it, I was reminded of a George Bernard Shaw quotation that I had to dig 0ut: The only service a friend can really render is to keep your courage by holding up a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.

And then I looked a second time at the helicopter shadow and it became clearer. A helicopter is a complicated machine, big, bulky and capable of all sorts of aerodynamic wonders and yet for all its complexity, its shadow is a simple one. Too often, we make our lives more complicated than they need to be. We analyse and over-analyse a situation and turn it into something fit for discussion at a UN convention. More often again, though, we fail to reflect on issues at all and go through life in the hope that it will all come right in the end, sometimes shortchanging ourselves and not manifesting our true potential. It’s great to have faith, but faith, too, needs some work: finding the balance between the shadow and the self is as good a place to start as any.

While friends might appear to have all the answers and while the books might read as if they’re a blueprint for life, an honest conversation with ourselves about who we are and who we want to be cannot be avoided.

And staying with shadows: seeing such a small shadow might cause us to underestimate the size of the plane. The shadow of what we do and say stretches far and is often distorted to the point that it bears little resemblance to the original intent – for better or for worse. I can still remember snippets of conversation from 20 years ago that radically changed how I live my life. And I often wonder if the person responsible for what was said has any idea of the affect their words have had. No matter. I’m still grateful that I was there to hear what they had to say and aware enough to let those words take root.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 18

In Eger this weekend, I was struck by how many of us walk with our heads down, looking at the pavement. Or with eyes front, looking ahead. And then there are the few whose heads sit upon their necks like periscopes; they’re the ones who notice things. Odd things, like shop signs that are above eye level. It made me stop and think of the GB Shaw quote: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it. Now, I know he wasn’t thinking about this type of observation – but it came into my mind nonetheless. Maybe it was the owl that did it – that strange mix of wisdom and night vision… mmmm… why am I associating GB with owls I wonder?

When I went in search of a more meaningful quote, I came across this one by photographer Elliott ErwittTo me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. I have a vague recollection of reading a book about Venice in which the author reckoned cameras should be banned from the city and instead, people should look, really look, and enjoy in the now instead of looking for a photograph to admire later. There is something in that, I suppose. Yet I think that having a camera in your hand makes you look at things you wouldn’t ordinarily see and makes you see what you see in a totally different light.

I bought my digital camera when I was in Hawaii back in 2008 and since then, it’s been like another arm. I might take 100 rubbish photos for every decent one I get – and I find myself getting frustrated, not with the weather because it is hot or cold, but because it affects the light. And yet I can say, hand on my heart, that in the last four years, I’ve become a lot more observant. I notice things now that I wouldn’t have noticed before. And I save myself a fortune in therapy fees by identifying obsessions before they begin to wreak havoc on my life. I now go to photo exhibitions and get a real pleasure out of seeing other people’s work. I know that I still have one foot firmly planted on the point-and-click rung on the photography ladder yet I like to think that my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds – and for this, I am truly grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52