One late afternoon recently I was working at my computer and happened to glance up at the window nearby. Though the shade was pulled down half way, the sun was streaming through the panes, and my stained glass butterfly was fully lit by the filtered rays. I’d never noticed this before, as usually the shade is all the way up or it’s dark and no light is coming in. The butterfly was glowing so beautifully in the gentle light that I had to stop my work and simply stare.
After a few moments, I decided to take a picture. I felt some internal struggle about this, because I was in the middle of writing an article and it occurred to me that I should finish first and then fetch my camera. But a little voice inside seemed to call to me, “Do it now!” So I spent the next few minutes fiddling with angles and settings until I got a shot I liked. I stared at the butterfly for a short time after that and then went back to work.
A bit later, after I’d finished writing, I glanced back up at the window and noticed that the light had passed, and the butterfly wasn’t glowing any more. In photography, they call what had just happened “the decisive moment,” the moment when you click the perfect shot, when everything in your subject’s expression and form lines up perfectly, and you are able to capture the essence of the moment on film. The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is considered the father of photojournalism, coined the phrase. Of course, I had more than an instant to capture the image of my butterfly above, but had I not put down my work when I did I'd have missed the opportunity entirely.
I often think about how easy it is to miss those “decisive” moments during an average day…about how often we’re looking up when just at our feet is an extraordinary flower, or how when we’re looking down we may miss a gorgeous heron soaring through the sky. I know we can’t be looking everywhere at once, but it certainly seems that too much time is spent staring at cell phones and computer screens these days, and while we’re preoccupied with our little worlds we may be missing so many things…sunlight streaming through the wings of glass butterflies, for instance.
I’m going to make an effort to be more aware of the beauty all around me (even as I typed this last sentence a woodpecker flew into the treetop nearby, a yellow leaf fell from my pear tree onto its pine neighbor in a most graceful manner and a bee began buzzing from flower to flower on my Rose of Sharon). Perhaps it would be more productive to move my workspace away from the windows, but I think not. There is so much to see, and we don’t need to have a camera in our hands to register those exquisite images in our hearts.