In 2005 when I was living in Cologne, Germany, then new Pope Ratzinger made his very first tour in my city. What a momentous event it was! A beautiful day, tens of thousands of happy people there to see and celebrate the new German-born pope and a route that would lead him past the iconic 800 year old Kölner Dom. On that fantastic day, I secured a spot on the route, right up against the barrier, so I would have a front row viewing of the actual Pope as he drove by in his famous popemobile. I had a brand new Samsung phone, which was equipped with a camera, and I practiced getting photos so I’d be prepared to get the best possible when the Pope drove by.
When the moment came, I executed flawlessly and got 1-2 photos of the new Pope as he went by my position. I looked at the photos and was happy with what I had gotten (even though the mobile photo quality back then pales in comparison to what we have today). But something hit me directly after I viewed my photos: I hadn’t even gotten to really see the Pope with my own eyes! Like most in the audience that day, I put all my efforts into taking a photo instead of really being present, with my own eyes and all my other sensory perceptions, at that possibly once-in-a-lifetime scenario. I found myself feeling rather silly and demanding that I turn that experience into a longer life lesson.
Fast forward to 2006-2007. During that timeframe, I was a small groups adventure tour leader in Southern Europe, Mexico and Central America. It was such a great time in my life because I got to visit an amazing number of incredibly beautiful locations. Whether it was taking my passengers to historical places or locations out in the beauty of nature, I passed through these places multiple times so there was never a need, on my end, to quickly run through and take photos before moving on the the next destination. I could simply sit back, take it all in, and observe how others made use of their experience. What struck me time and again, was how people the world over, would arrive at a place of beauty, look at it once, take a few photos from different angles, and then quickly walk off to get the next photos of whatever else caught their eye. I saw on countless occasions what I had done on that beautiful day in Cologne as the Pope drove by, which was a lack of being present in the pursuit of an image that I would probably only view a scant fews times in my lifetime. Wanting to heighten the experience of my passengers, I would always remind them to actually stop and take a look at what they were seeing, to take it all in, with all their senses. At historical places, I would even remind them to deeply visualize what life must have been like for people in these locations throughout the centuries. Getting a profound feel for a place with all the senses would create a deeper, longer lasting memorial impression, which was why they were there in the first place. Some people “got” it, others quickly forgot.
When I saw the photo of the old lady (above) peacefully taking in an experience amongst a throng of mobile photo takers, I was reminded of my valuable lessons with the Pope and as my time as a tour leader. At times taking photos are indeed a necessary part of capturing and remembering life, to be viewed and cherished at later dates. But it is equally as necessary to be present in the here-and-now, making use of all of our sensory perceptions to create memorial imprints that serve our psyche in the most positive and healthy ways possible. If you want to get a visual on what this may look like, simply take one last look at the old lady in the photo above. That says it all.