I went to the beach this weekend. I was there with Aditi, her parents, and my dad. The stated purpose was to watch the Blue Angels (the Navy fighter planes that are based in Pensacola) do an airshow on the beach.
Aditi and my dad both got really worked up about taking pictures of their show. And it was another reminder of something I have realized recently.
When I went to India, I saw many, many beautiful things. I saw the Taj Mahal and various ruins and constructions in Delhi and Agra, dating back hundreds of years. I discovered that there is a certain time of day, starting from a few hours before sunset and lasting as long as there is light. It is this time when the light hits everything just perfectly, and the world lights up. It makes everything beautiful.
The first time I encountered this phenomenon was when we were visiting the Lal Kila (Red Fort) of Delhi. We were inside, wandering around the buildings, admiring the carving. I loved it all. I took my time examining the buildings, so when I finally made it to the best building, the one with the most carving, made of white marble, it was too late. It was nearing sunset, closing time, and the guard would not let me join the rest of family where they were standing, upon a dais, where they could walk through the building if they liked. I got a picture or two, as I stood down there, waiting for them. I wished I could have spent hours more there. I had seen beauty, but it was quickly snatched away.
Perhaps if I had not taken so long taking pictures, fiddling with my camera settings to capture the images before my eyes, I could have taken in more, with my own eyes instead of the camera’s inadequate lens.
I relearned this the next day, at the same time of day, when we visited the Qutb Minar. The ruins surrounding it were old and the light hit them just right. There was a hilly little field as well, and it was so John Constable I couldn’t believe it wasn’t in England. I tried to take the pictures, but then I gave up. I took in the trees and the ruins and appreciated them moreso than I could have by simply capturing them in my camera’s xd card.
I admit I have little skill with a camera. I dream of going back to Delhi and Agra with real skill and a real camera, and trying once again. But that, too, would be different. In taking the pictures with care and knowledge, I would be honoring the places as effectively as just letting it soak in. Or so it seems to me.
I have been rereading Slaughterhouse-Five. I finished it today. I had given it to my mom to read on the plane, and she came back last week. She didn’t read it, or O Pioneers! either.
There is a certain passage, from which the title of this post is taken, that just hit me. (The scene is of Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, entering the spaceship that has abducted him. It is owned by Tralfamadorians, of the planet Tralfamadore, who see time differently than we Earthlings.)
“Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim,” said the loudspeaker. “Any questions?”
Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?”
“That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?”
“Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
“Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”
And then, a few pages later:
“Where am I?” said Billy Pilgrim.
“Trapped in another blob of amber, Mr. Pilgrim. We are where we have to be just now — three hundred million miles from Earth, bound for a time warp which will get us to Tralfamadore in hours rather than centuries.”
“How — how did I get here?”
“It would take another Earthling to explain it to you. Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”
“You sounds to me as thought you don’t believe in free will,” said Billy Pilgrim.
“If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on earth is there any talk of free will.”
Perhaps just a touch deeper than my point about taking pictures, but the essence is the same. Just take life moment by moment. Don’t worry about capturing the magic.
Think of it as a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle-type thing (I hate it when people mix hard science with musings, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em). By trying to capture it, perhaps you lose what was there. I look back at the best of my pictures, and it’s still not the same, not even close.
Just let the moment be, and be glad you’re stuck in the amber of this moment, for it is truly a happy one.