Over the last 15 months of having a DSLR I've become obsessed with capturing moments others aren't paying attention to. I'm eternally curious about someone's story, who they are, why they're where they are, what their life is like, who they love. Not to be nosy, but maybe because it's a need to see similarities. Maybe it's that thing that helps me tie all of us together. I don't have all the answers. I really believe I have fewer answers now than I thought I did some years ago. I just know it drives me to want to understand more, see more, be present - more.
It was last year that I snapped this photo. My archive says it was April 13, 2014. I might have been on the 36 bus that day, for reference and all. I sat down and we were crossing the bridge and looked up to see this man looking at the Anacostia. But it was that he reminded me of another time in history, in my history even. I couldn't help but think of my grandfather in the moment. I needed this photo. I raised my camera and snapped a few images. Then I wondered what he could possibly be thinking about.
I began this post last week, but I had to look for this photo because it was something about it that made me wonder what it means to understand another person. That in trying to understand ourselves, the pursuit of understanding another is worthy.
We live in this power struggle for understanding in most of our relationships. At least in those of the romantic kind, those of siblings, those of parents and children, those at work. Hell, even playing sidewalk roulette and vying for seats on the metro, the bus and passing people on the road. Every day there seems to be a struggle. The idea and the need to be validated and noticed. The moments spent in hoping the other person supports our decisions and approves of us. We garner and vy for love and attention.
I've learned you can have the attention of thousands, but often you're seeking the love and attention of just one.
I'm really talking to myself here, by the way. This is my story, my narrative.
That moment of if I could just get him to notice me. Really see me. That moment of man I wish he looked that happy when he was with me. The way we yearn for love. The way we "fall in love alone" as Iris from The Holiday put it so eloquently. I've spent countless years in that struggle to be noticed or rather - understood. Moments trying to explain myself and get people to understand. I think sometime in my twenties I realized the endeavor in itself was a useless one. I was playing it all wrong.
Along the way, I realized it was better to understand than be understood. I got the idea that no one really cares unless you express that you care about them. That you care about what they think, how they feel, their experiences and how things are happening for them. In other words - not just a momentary check-in but that you really care. That you're able to listen. You don't even need to offer advice. Sometimes just listening and paying for the coffee works. The way my grandmother used to grab my hand in public is something that I'll always miss, but it's that one thing that also told me she really cared about me. She'd grab me in public and kiss me and hug me like it was the first and last time we'd hug. It's hard not to miss that sort of moment. Or that she would make sure to pick out tomatoes that were barely ripe - since she knew I wouldn't eat the ones that were too soft. It's the small gestures in life that seem to add up to be the most valuable. Offering a sincere and heartfelt, "I'm sorry" "I understand" "I feel you" "Man, that's really shitty" "That was fucked up" - you know - letting the person know you're on their side, despite what the odds could say.
Understanding is paying attention.
Understanding means being able to put yourself in someone's shoes and get to a place that you can meet them where they are.
Understanding can in turn help you know what needs your actual attention and what to leave alone.
The funny part? The more I think I understand, the less I actually know. It's a terrible thing to try and balance out so I've stopped.
All of this matters in the course of designing our lives.
I'm somewhat of an enigma. At least in my own mind. Those closest to me have been kind enough to echo much of my own insanity so I'm not isolated. We seem to get each other. That's the important thing. While the understanding may begin as a one-sided curiosity, there's a mutual relationship and exchange that has to happen. The person has to be willing to let you in to see them as they are - flaws and all. You have to be willing to look and not flinch when the person may be something different than you had conjured up in your mind. They have to be willing to turn and see you as well. Sometimes, if we're lucky enough, we find each other to be as beautiful as we had hoped. I have to admit, I've been rarely disappointed when I go in with this notion.
For me, once I've decided to love you, you really don't have a choice. I'm on your side. I'm with you even when others may not be. I mean whose always got their shit together? I don't. But I know I've had some amazing people stand by me and walk with me when I didn't. Secretly I'm still trying to get my shit together but don't tell anyone.
I don't know if I've mastered the art of understanding, as I like to call it. I'd like to think it's why I meet and talk to so many. Why I share. Why I attempt to capture moments with my camera, why I love photographing the people I love. But I know how critical understanding is in building a life that's worthy of review at the end of our days. It's helped me to build some of the richest relationships that continue to bless me even in this moment.