There is a fine line between passion and obsession, the difference being that one fulfills you while the other eats away at you. Although I am convinced that it is still a passion, my constant need and love for documenting is at times worrisome. I love to memorialize moments, to inscribe them into permanence, whether that be in the form of writing, recording, photographing, or filming. However, this trip has made me more aware of the fact that when an opportunity to document is missed, I cant shake the feeling that it is a moment wasted. And so I think to myself, “Why cant the experience of a moment be enough in and of itself for me to feel fulfilled?”
There are many people on this boat that are clearly untroubled by this issue. I can see it in their smiles, a lighthearted kind of smile that does not require recognition and can just as contentedly fade away as it can grow. These people lean over the rails and watch a sunset with a calm and placid mind, instead or rushing below deck for camera gear or pen and paper. Their experiences build upon their characters instead of weighing them down.
|The galley wall|
Recently one night, I had been assigned to mid-watch galley (kitchen) duty. Let me tell you, there are few more glamorous jobs than this one. You are given the privilege of being woken up in the dead of night to crawl around on your hand in knees in the kitchen with a moldy floor-sponge, scraping out the bits of soggy carbohydrates and fermented meat-juices from various corners and crannies. However, you do get to change the page on the calendar that resides in the kitchen, the page-a-day kind that gives you a new quote every day. This night it read, “All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.”
The quote seemed curiously relevant, but something about it was off. How can there be value in a “simple, frugal” heart? It seemed to clash against everything my privileged, profundity-prizing, liberal arts education and depth-seeking western society had taught me.
|A family on Fanning Island|
The next day we arrived at Fanning Island. Walking between homes that could wash away on a rogue tide, I was struck by a foreboding sense or transience in everything I saw. I couldn't shake the feeling that despite their cheery perseverance, these families seemed doomed. Fanning Island may very well be completely uninhabited in our lifetimes, with its ability to support its population quickly waning. From the perspective of someone who sees little value in anything that is not remembered and recorded, I felt a deep sense of guilt as I questioned why a society like this carries on at all. I looked at my feet and wandered around, wondering all the while if a few pictures on some college student’s old computer would someday be all that remained of an entire society.
The villages’ ephemeral future, however, clashed against the constantly fulfilled expressions of its inhabitants. There were smiles on the faces of not just naïve children but also full-grown adults; people who likely have a complete understanding of their fragile homes and likely fate, who work hard to keep their children’s names on the list of “top students” scrupulously posted to the school wall with left over tape from old morphine bottles. Seeing this, I was able to connect the dots: they bore the same smiles worn by those I envied on board our ship, and in this context I understood what it meant to have a “simple, frugal heart.”
There is nothing wrong with delving into the profound, but it is a task that should be appointed to the mind alone, not the heart. It is the difference between exploring the big ideas and being concerned with them. This is not to say that those that truly enjoy each passing moment, those with a “simple, frugal heart,” are simple-minded; that was my mistake. It is to say that they know what merits contemplation of the heart and do not waste it on unproductive pursuits. They let the present moment contribute to their hearts, where as people like myself are prone to pile it upon our minds. For the heart is not like the mind. It does not concern itself with the past or future. The heart does not value memories; it values what we gain as individuals from experiences instead of the specific experiences themselves; it values any action for the worth of the act itself and not how it fits into the larger picture; more than anything, the heart values the simple, frugal joys of life in and of itself instead of scouring it for arbitrary reason and meaning. It may take me some time to fully embrace this understanding, but at least I now know what I am looking for, and surely if the people of Fanning Island value the passing moment enough to enjoy what may be a transient society, I can find a way to do so as well. I cannot guarantee that I will not continue to document and record the moments I value most, but I will at least now try to spend some time experiencing them in the present moment, rather than solely through the lens of a camera.