by Neal Lemery
(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, May 17, 2023)
Life is always teaching me lessons. I can get lost, or lose something I think is important, a treasure that is valuable to my life. In the process of the “hunt” of what was lost, I learn something about me. And that can either be insightful, or humbling, and usually both of those thought processes, both of those “evaluation of self” experiences.
I was out in the woods the other day, looking for flowers to photograph. It was an amazing spring day. I was soon in the “zone” of looking for the perfect flowers, the ideal forest scene, complete with dappled sunlight and warm breezes. Time disappeared and I was having a bonding experience with my camera, thinking I was capturing some great images and improving my photography skills.
Happy with my results, I came back to my truck to stash my gear. Joy and contentment quickly turned to disappointment and a feeling of disgust with myself. A lens cap had disappeared. I’d been proactive, attaching an elastic cord and to the cap and the lens, so the item wouldn’t stray. Part of my photographic rituals is to always recap my lenses, to the point that I’d call myself obsessive about that.
Now, the lens cap was gone, and the only one to blame was me. I’d gotten in a hurry, got distracted, and got myself lost in the photographer’s “zone” of trying to capture the perfect photo. I retraced my steps in that spot in the woods, coming up empty. Mentally, I retraced the last hour, remembering that I’d had the cap at the previous stop, that I’d felt it come unattached, and that it hadn’t been on the camera at this viewpoint. I also realized I hadn’t been paying attention, that I’d lost touch with my tools, and my creative process.
Like most times I lose something, it was my doing, my responsibility for getting distracted, sidetracked by whatever creative process or action I was trying to accomplish in the moment. I quickly shifted into “coulda, woulda, shoulda” thinking, blaming myself for being an idiot, careless and forgetful. I can easily catastrophize the most insignificant events, and invite the Grim Reaper to show up, telling myself I am an abject failure at life.
I’m good at that self-blaming, and not allowing myself to be kind to me, to engage in some old fashioned and much needed self-forgiveness.
We are talking about a $10 item, at most, and it is not like this was a life and death mistake, or that the world would come closer to an untimely end because of my stupidity. I can be harsh with myself, and I’m not a gentle taskmaster when it comes to my own actions or mistakes.
I had to stop a minute and have a little talk with myself, calming myself down. It was not the end of the world. It was not a tragedy of significance. It was not a major character flaw on my part, bringing me to shame and great moral blame. I wasn’t going to need to get down on my knees and beg anyone for forgiveness. And the Sheriff wouldn’t need to show up and look down on me or take me to jail. Life would go on. And, not anyone else would even bother to look up and listen to my tale of woe.
I went back to the earlier scenic spot I’d come from. In a minute, I spied the errant lens cap and elastic strap, lying on the path where I’d dropped it, where it had parted ways from the camera lens, evading my attention. It was no worse for wear, just a little dusty from the path. I reunited it with my camera lens and all was right in the world. The earth hadn’t stopped revolving on its axis, the day had continued. No one else seemed to be upset, or angry, or even affected by my little act of negligence and forgetfulness.
Again, I learned the lessons of self-forgiveness, understanding of what happens if I don’t pay attention, or get distracted. And, most importantly, I again learned the lessons of appreciating magnitude, the relative importance of what goes on in our lives, how we deal with the stresses of modern life, and how we can so easily turn a minor event into a full-blown disaster, when that level of reaction is so not appropriate, and so unnecessary.
I can easily go from zero to sixty in a heartbeat, moving quickly into panic mode, into beating myself up, into an all out blame game.
Or not. It has been a been a beautiful day. I was out in it, enjoying it, trying to capture some of the beauty for others to enjoy. And, I quickly jumped into disaster mode, losing sight of what was really happening, how I could easily manage this “disaster” and move on with my life.
I learned again some good lessons about me, how I respond to an act of distraction and forgetfulness, that I am worthy of treating myself gently, with kindness.
And, I got to revisit a beautiful place. I took some more pictures. They were better pictures than what I had taken during the first visit. I accomplished better photography, with a renewed appreciation of the values of patience, and understanding of me. In all that, it was a good lesson, and a good day. I’d lost some of me, and then found something even better.