Have you ever had a moment of clarity? Have you ever felt like you’ve had a true “aha moment” and are then a better person because of it? Has an social interaction with another human being ever TRULY effected you? I’ll be honest, I would almost always answer ‘no’ to all of those questions. I coast through most days, hell my life even, in my own head, just sort of in a daze not really allowing things to effect me. Well today feels different, and for some reason I feel compelled to write it down and share it here…. “John’s never serious…” is what I’m sure you’re all thinking right now, so hold on tight.
Today started like any other day… I’m at work, armed with my iPhone camera and a pocket full of fortunes from fortune cookies. You see I’m lucky enough to have a job in a neighborhood of Burlington, Vermont that allows me to walk around and occasionally snap pictures of the interesting people, places and things. I like to then slap funny comments or captions to those photos and share them on various forms of social media. It helps me to feel “artsy and creative”, which is how I defined myself early on in life, and haven’t been able to let go of. So my new “artsy and creative” venture is more than just taking pictures of “stuff”, it’s taking pictures while incorporating random fortunes from fortune cookies. I thought it was a cool and original idea until I searched the hashtag ‘fortunecookie’ and realized that it’s not that original at all. But it’s still fun, and it helps fill my days, and maybe I can do it in a way that’s different or unique.
So there I was, walking around, doing my thing, when maybe twenty feet away was a young guy digging through some people’s trash. He had his own garbage can on wheels with him to use to collect his finds, and a stroller with his young toddler son in it. I watched for a minute thinking to myself that this would make a great shot somehow, but how? I kept doing my thing for a minute or two more, when he started talking with me. He started telling me about all the “great shit” people throw out, and how people today don’t value the things they own. He told me about a computer someone just gave him, that was going to be thrown out, that he could now give to his wife. He told me about how some people judge him for digging around people’s trash, and that it’s even worse that he brings his son along. He told me that he’s not embarrassed, and that he knows he could be doing more, but that this was where he was at this point in his life and that was okay. He said all of this with a smile on his face… a truly sincere smile. Now the hard edged, crack a joke John would most likely insert a joke here about how that smile was probably due to the highly effective drugs this guy was on, but I don’t believe that was case. No jokes here (today).
He kept talking. I kept listening. He wasn’t very interested in what I might have to say, and that was okay. I just let him talk, all the while thinking of how I might be able to turn this moment into a photo. While I stood there listening, I quietly reached into my pocket for a fortune. I would let the fortune dictate the moment, and guide me as to whether or not I would ask him if I could take his picture. The fortune was PERFECT! I waited for a pause, and then I started in with my usual line, “Can I ask you a really odd favor?” He listened to me talk about the photos I take, and he gave me permission to take his photo. He warned me that he wasn’t very photogenic, and I assured him that was fine. I took my photo, showed him, thanked him, and we parted ways. He never stopped smiling.
It was at that moment that I felt it… a connection. A moment of clarity, if you will. I was smiling too. I knew the picture was, in my opinion, great. I knew that I couldn’t wait to share it. But I also felt compelled to write something down. I felt fortunate to have had that interaction. I kept thinking of all the people around me everyday that wouldn’t seek out a moment like that, and who could truly benefit from it. I kept thinking about the people who have so much more than he does and how they never smile, and just keep complaining. I want to kick myself for every time I’ve ever complained or felt unappreciative of what I have. I have a beautiful family, and a home, and a pain in the ass dog, and a job that allows me to still identify myself as “artsy and creative”. I’m very fortunate.
Thanks Jeff. Thanks for letting me take your photo today.