This is Part 2 of a two-part-part post about two life lessons I learned from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
If you haven’t read Part 1, Beautiful Things Don’t Ask for Attention, then go back and read that post first.
Or, if you don’t mind catching up with less context, simply watch the clip to jump ahead. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=S8c4KinQdgg
O’Connell: “Take your time, settle in, try to be real still OK?”
Mitty looks in the direction where O’Connell’s camera lens is pointed.
O’Connell: “There’s a snow leopard in this ridge. So we have to try to be very very very still… They call the snow leopard the ghost cat. Never lets itself be seen.”
Mitty: “Ghost cat?”
O’Connell: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”
The snow leopard appears. We only see it through O’Connell’s lens. It is an illusive, beautiful animal. Both Mitty and O’Connell stare in amazement. The scene is silent, except for the wind whistling through mountains. Mitty, turns to O’Connell, waiting for him to take the photo.
Mitty: “When are you gonna take it?”
O’Connell: “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, I mean me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
I remember sitting in the movie theater three years ago and this scene hitting me like a ton of bricks. Two things caught my attention. In Part 1, I explored the line “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” Now, in this second part, I want to explore the second line: “If I like a moment, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”
The point being made here is that “the camera” has the ability to get in the way of precious moments. The camera can interrupt, disrupt, or ruin a moment.
“Camera” here refers to a literal camera, but it also refers to anything that gets between you and the moment, distorting or changing the purity of the experience. This could be an actual camera, yes, but also could be a smartphone, a social media post, feverish note taking, or something else.
Many, if not all of us, when experiencing a moment, are programmed to pull out a smartphone to capture it.
Your toddler takes her first steps. You dig for your smartphone to take a video.
You’re a great time with your friends at a nice restaurant. You get everyone together for a group photo after dessert. Or, you take a photo of the dessert itself, then add some filters and walah, Instagram.
You’re hiking through nature. You take a selfie. Or, you take a picture of the nature, behind your selfie. It will be a great cover photo.
We all do this. I do this! Of course I capture the moment. Why wouldn’t I?
But another question remains, which is: why don’t I (or can’t I, rather) just enjoy the moment as it happens instead of feeling the need to capture it?
Are some moments better kept for myself, rather than storing or sharing with others? I wonder how much I would enjoy precious moments even more if I didn’t let the camera get in the way. I wonder how much better life would be if I could stay in the moment.
Last year, 2015, a photo of a crowd in Massachusetts went viral. As the cast of the newly released blockbuster movie Black Mass was coming out to this crowd, the fans were so in awe and excited that they had to capture a photo to remember and/or share the moment. Cameras and smartphones were raised high, reaching for a snapshot of actors Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon, Joel Edgerton, and others from the film. It was a chance to capture a moment. To show a friend something cool. To post a photo and get some likes. To look back on this for years.
One woman stood in the crowd, enjoying this once in a lifetime experience in a different way. She didn’t pull out her iPhone, or reach for her camera. Instead, she soaked it in.
Which of these people look to be enjoying life most? The elderly woman in the photo is 100% present. She is taking the moment in. She will remember this forever, despite not taking any photos. She didn’t let the camera get in the way of the moment.
I wonder if we will look back at our life’s supply of photos and videos, and possibly never fully appreciate the feelings we had in the moments that passed during those photos. Yes, we will have the images, but will we have the deep, life-changing and personal growth moments we could have had if we had stayed in the moment, and kept “the camera” from getting between us and the beauty? After all, it is not only the memories of experiences that make up life, but also the growth and change that happens during those experiences. Can we really be impacted to grow or change if we put up a shield, a screen, a status, or a camera?
Real life experience comes from staying in the moment, without distractions.