Breathe Deep and Look for the Details Posted on 28 Oct 16:19

Some say God is in the details, others suggest the devil’s in them. You choose, but either way the details irrefutably matter. It makes me wonder how often I overlook or underestimate the particulars in my life. After all, it’s the familiar that often eludes us.

I have a friend who took up photography a few years back—he chose a literal lens for seeing the familiar. He paid a price to find it: one broken heart. He purchased a camera with money he’d meticulously earned to pay for a honeymoon with a girl who said she would marry him. Instead she dumped him. Instantly, his life was terribly dim and absolutely unclear. He used his stash to pay for a shutter and focus, to help him find catharsis. My friend later admitted, “I never imagined a camera could retrieve me from despair and rescue my shadowy heart, but it did.”

He found clarity looking through a new lens. Small details took on large proportions. He was asked to accompany a charitable organization to Vietnam to document their trip visually and to pitch in and help manually. A shantytown outside of Hue captured his heart. Not at first—all he could see was dingy buildings, unpalatable food, and depravity. He was face to face with poverty; she wasn’t pretty at all. His bout with heat stroke almost kept him from seeing the truth. It wasn’t until he carried packages of uniforms, books, and crayons down a sandy path, only to be greeted by singing, dancing village children whose faces underscored their song that he began to adjust his lens. Children who were worn, but not worn out inspired him. They found happiness amid rubble. Their laughter was true, their smiles authentic. Crayons colored their world. With so little, they loved so much. My friend was seeing what Vietnam had to offer—it was bountiful. He discovered that happiness comes from a well inside of us if we’ll bury it safely there. Circumstance can’t hoist real happiness out; that truth was written on every child’s face. Surrounding objects began to blur. He saw each of their stories and began to understand his mother’s mantra, “People, not projects” in a way he never had before. He told me, “I was seeing life in macro. I was seeing life with new eyes.”

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His story reminds me that beauty is almost always found in the details. I love nostalgic Anna Quindlen’s advice, “Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present.”

Some days, if life appears hazy, I don’t panic. I know that life out of focus requires adjustments. So I breathe deep and look for the details. Sure enough, I find beauty in the small, seemingly insignificant particulars. I find significance in the familiar.