Do You Have a Wide-Angled Lens?

Sep 19, 2022

My son, Joshua, and I were on a West Coast road trip. Beverly Hills. No hillbillies unless you counted us. Getty Museum were one of the docents beckoned me over, releasing stress hormones as I wondered, “What did I do wrong? I’m not touching anything, and I’m staying on the right side of the line.”

(Sheesh. How can I feel grown-up one minute and like I’m back in third grade the next?!)

Turns out he wanted to make sure we saw the sculpture of Jesus’ head in another gallery because of Joshua’s uncanny resemblance. It was true; Josh could have been the model for the bust.

Now, however, we’d said goodbye to Los Angeles lights and San Diego waterfronts and were trekking through Joshua Tree National Park. Throughout the day with temperatures exceeding 100°, we’d spotted black-tailed jackrabbits with their spatula-sized ears. Muted colored songbirds whose precision landing abilities avoiding hand-length cacti thorns rivaled fighter jets docking on an aircraft carrier. Bighorn sheep resting under a protruding ledge on the shorn side of a rocky mountain. Josh tracked these two nimble creatures to their hiding spot.

Yet the vastness of the place somehow centered my soul. I was small. Not in some insignificant existential way. Like I was a guest, not the host. I could enjoy the place and, like any considerate visitor, be expected to help as needed and clean up after myself. But the responsibilities to take care of everyone and everything didn’t rest with me.

Lizards scampered off the path as my footsteps alerted them to possible danger, but they didn’t roll themselves over and give up the ghost. I mattered in the moment only to those critters who sensed my presence. Once I was gone, no butterfly would alight atop one of the bushes bejeweled with tiny blooms and ponder their path. 

Perspective simultaneously calmed and energized. 

As the sun eased towards the horizon, I knew I would never be able to capture that day’s photo opportunities again. Sure, I could come to this location again, but it would never be the same place. Colors in the light spectrum would illuminate the earth differently as the seasons changed. Clouds would impact the hues on the earth below. Critters and even one upturned rock would change the landscape.

With daylight giving way to darkness, photo gear secured in my backpack, I knew opportunities were fading.

Isn’t that just like life?

It’s when the candles on our birthday cake announce, “You have more years behind than ahead.”

It’s when the last child no longer needs help tying his shoe.

It’s when the friend’s move no longer allows for last-minute walks.

Every day moves us one step closer to closing doors, eventually until we reach the final one of death.

It doesn’t have to be. It depends on how you focus.

Psalm 90 records a prayer of Moses. An outpouring of such significance it became a community lament for the Jewish nation. After several passages recount the brevity of life, verse 12 states, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Can you hear the call to initiative and rest?

This isn’t a poor-me, my-life-is-meaningless pout disguised as a prayer.

This is a calling to center ourselves. To live mindful that to fulfill our purpose we need wisdom, and we don’t get an infinite amount of time to obtain it. 

This isn’t a warning to live panicked, pressured, and always “in a pickle,” disguised as pursuing our passion or fulfilling our purpose. 

This is an invitation to see through a wide-angle lens.

To see we are part of a vast scene; we’re not the focal point. We have a role; we’re not the story.

This perspective allows us to not obsess over the small stuff. To not ignore the big stuff. To ask for and accept forgiveness for our failures as we grow in maturity. To not expect indulgence in the name of grace. To seek wisdom to honor our impact. To obtain wisdom to recognize and accept our limitations.

Focusing through a wide-angle lens isn’t the same as living the lens cap on. We still see. We observe. We decide how we’ll position ourselves. What we’ll include in the picture and what we’ll exclude.

Centered living isn’t passive. It’s focused initiative on what matters.

In Joshua Tree, I waited for the earth’s rotation to position the radiant lemon-yellow moon perfectly between two taupe, pinkish, orange mottled stone hills, hoping there’d be enough light to capture the shot my eye imagined. It wasn’t just another photo to file in “Landscapes.”

It was a reminder to live wide-angled and call my soul back to center. May it do the same for you.

©Stephanie Smith, 2022

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