Appreciating Those Fleeting Moments

By David Cobb

“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

It’s been perhaps 15 or 20 years since I read Paul Bowles book The Sheltering Sky, yet that paragraph in the book changed my life forever, and it improved how I look at and appreciate those fleeting moments. I will continually go out to watch a full moon rise, because only twenty more moonrises just don’t seem like enough to me. That paragraph also changed how I appreciate capturing those brief instants in-camera, and how I might try to convey my emotional response from those moments through processing. This doesn’t mean I need to capture every sunrise or moonrise I observe–far from it. There are many moments when I just witness and appreciate nature’s show and feel glad to be alive.

Recently, I was out for an early sunrise but there was little chance of anything happening. I set up my tripod, composed an image just in case, and then waited. Through a slit in the sky, the rays of morning popped through ever so briefly, and for maybe a moment the earth bathed in gorgeous light. These are the times I truly appreciate and want to photograph: When nature puts on a brief and spectacular show that few if any other witness.

Photographer Paul Strand said, “Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.” I hope I can show that I really lived and saw. I don’t mean to be melancholy, but we’re all just fleeting moments in the scheme of things, so I’d rather live for the moment than have regrets later in life that I didn’t live or see all I wanted to. I don’t need to travel to the far ends of the earth to accomplish that- there is more than enough to see and photograph in my small part of the world.

Two months ago my cat Plato died. I had taken photos of him as a kitten, but not as an adult. I always put it off for another day. One day Plato was sick, the next he wasn’t there, and I didn’t have another day for those photos. Luckily, a friend had taken an image of him as an adult so I can still see Plato’s photo. I didn’t wait with my other cat; I immediately took photos of her as an adult because I may not have another day to do so. Don’t put those photos off for another day. Make your bucket list and follow through. Show us that you lived.

Maybe Mark Twain said it best when he wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” And photograph well when you observe those fleeting moments.

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