Smile!

You never truly know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.

I’ve heard this cliche time and time again over the years. It’s easy to ignore such sayings for their cheesiness, but I think we often ignore the fact that each one holds some truth. They are sayings that have stuck around for a reason – time is something that should never be taken for granted, but it is something that often is.

When I was young, my parents used to love taking photographs. Of me, of the dog, of the trees and the paths we wandered down – especially when we went on family trips. I never fully understood why this persistent documentation was necessary until I’d put a few years behind me and came to appreciate the genius invention that was the camera.

Around the time I was six, I went through a phase where I absolutely loathed anyone who tried to take a picture of me. I would pout and hide my face in my mother’s side. Maybe, if you were really lucky, you’d get me to give you a grimace. These were also the days of no, what I like to call my rebellion phase, the one I skipped in my teen years. I look back on those days now and smile. Life was so simple back then.

As time went on and life became routine, less photos were taken.

At one point, I got my own camera, then iPod, then iPhone, and began taking photos for myself. Once I discovered the medium of photography I fell in love, because that is exactly how my brain works. I imagine my brain to be some kind of super computer that can process emotions (albeit not always that accurately.) I have an insanely vivid memory for the moments that make up my life: I can go back in my archives and find an image or watch an entire scene unfold from years ago, much like watching a movie on a computer screen. For me, the art of photography and writing poetry are one in the same. It is the art of capturing instances of the human experience, of freezing time so that it can be saved and never forgotten.

There came a time when my dad was rarely the one behind the lens anymore, unless we had traveled somewhere exotic or were doing something especially fun. Life had grown too busy for such things. As so many people do, we forgot how to appreciate the beauty of everyday life. I became increasingly aware of the rapid rate at which time seems to vanish. For a while, I wanted to document every moment of my day, until I didn’t. In my angsty teen years, there were entire months where not a single photo was taken. I see this now as a reflection of my own lack of self esteem and the general state dissatisfaction we seemed to exist in.

This year, for the first time since I was born, my mom and I celebrated mother’s day in separate time zones. For the first time since I moved out on my own, I was struck with an intense longing for the place I’d grown up and the people who’ve always been there. I spent a couple of hours looking through old photographs and instantly became aware of the magic of this form of capture. I was transported back in time: to the first time I saw the Austrian alps and the bliss of being eight, to my impatience with the endless visits with friends and relatives who spoke a language I barely knew, and the simple things that brought me joy. I remembered making caterpillars in the sand in Florida, walking cobblestone streets in Brazil, the feel of the ocean tickling my toes and the Hawaiian sun warming my face. There was the stillness of Clear Lake in the dead of summer. Sunrises and sunsets and nights beneath the stars.

Most of all, there were people. People, people, people. Nothing is more valuable than time spent with people.

I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for my father who had taken most of the photos I was scrolling through. It is so easy to get caught up in the business of life. There is work to be done, a house to be cleaned, family to be taken care of and events to attend. We live in a world that exists in a state of constant motion, where we’re asked to constantly show up for things, but, how often do you truly show up for your own life? For this moment right here, right now, reading these words on this screen. Are you here? Or is your mind already racing somewhere else, to the other twenty seven things you have to get done today?

Life is short, and our time here on earth is so, so precious. There is a freaky phenomenon that occurs as we go through life: over the years, our perception of time speeds up. A year when we are thirty seems so much shorter than it did when we were three – and that’s because, comparatively, it is. When you are three years old, a year makes up one third of your life. When you are thirty, it is just 1/30 of all the years you’ve spent on earth.

There are 168 hours in each week and 8 736 hours in every year, which is simultaneously a lot more and a lot less time than you think. As humans, we tend to vastly overestimate what we can accomplish in seven days while we greatly underestimate all we can achieve in a year. We often forget that how we spend our time is up to us. Time is a choice. If you don’t prioritize the things you value most, you will find yourself living someone else’s life. In a world that is full of companies, products and ideas vying for our attention, it is easy to let our days be filled up with a job we hate, endless social media feeds and our five favourite shows on Netflix. We complain we never have enough time to spend with our friends or pursue that hobby that really lights us up, when really it’s up to us. We decide what we make time for, whether we choose to admit it or not.

One of the reasons I believe meditation is so valuable is that it brings us back to our breath. Our minds tend to spiral in one of two directions: we ruminate over the past we cannot change, and worry about a future we cannot control. In the process, we forget about this moment, right here, right now. Our lives are composed of nows, of memories and ordinary moments made extraordinary by the things we chose to do with them and the people who were by our side. No matter where we are in life, the breath is always there.

Sometimes the heart beats a little faster, and sometimes there are moments that take our breath away. But when we come back to the breath, we are reminded that we are alive and we are okay.

I am working to build my life around my priorities, not to let them go but make them cornerstones in the way I live my days. I want to live a life filled with vivid memories, stunning scenes and photographs and moments that made me smile. Because in the end, it’s worth it. This life may be short, but the ride is wild.