“Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment though…” Stephen Sondhiem, Into the Woods
“Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be sixteen when they turn seventeen. I know these will all be stories some day, and our pictures will become old photographs. We all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now, these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here, and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song, and that drive with the people who you love most in this world. And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The morning sun is starting to warm the chilly Amsterdam air. Yellow leaves float past my bench and disappear under a bridge. Locals ride by on their bikes, coffee shops are starting to open. Out of habit, I wrap one strap of my backpack around my foot so no one can snatch it from me. It’s a relief to sit and give my feet and back a break, I’ve been carrying the bag for a couple of hours now. I scribble away in my journal about the beauty of this new city, of the sense of accomplishment I feel just for finding a way to get myself here. For a moment I can savor the adventure I’m on. My thoughts are interrupted by a stranger.
“Excuse me. I am sorry to bother you.” He stutters. Quickly I do the thing women do when approached by strange men and assess the threat level. He is about my age and looks breathlessly nervous. He seems harmless so I smile to make him feel comfortable. He is holding a large camera.
“I saw you sitting here on the bench and I took a picture. I think it turned out well. Here is my e-mail in case you would like to see it.” He finishes quickly.
“Oh, that would be great, thank you!” I say accepting his card. Without another word he turns on his heel and rushes away. I am impressed with the courage. I’m sure he worried he might seem like a creep, but I am grateful he took the risk and approached me. I would love to have a picture of this moment. This beautiful moment sitting next to a canal in Amsterdam watching the leaves float by and thanking the Universe for this part of my adventure. It would be unique to have a truly candid photo.
So often I see young people, especially women, taking very staged “candid” shots. I too, am absolutely guilty of this. Once while picnicking at Versailles I watched a girl dressed to the nines, spend a half hour directing her friend get the perfect iPhone shot of her gazing off across the grounds. I am sure it turned out beautifully, but those pictures aren’t the kinds of things I want to remember.
I have some great pictures from Paris. 12 girlfriends all squished into my tiny flat. About 100 pictures of the Eiffel Tower from various perspectives. But none of these pictures encapsulate what I love about this place. There are other moments I wish I could capture and keep in a glass box forever. Like later that night in Amsterdam when I stood in front of one of Van Gogh’s portraits and was so moved I openly wept.
Or waking up at 5 AM in the Jardin de Tuileries with girls I didn’t yet know would become my best friends.
Riding the train to Volksfest with a dozen new German friends, singing and drinking and having the time of my life.
Opening the windows at midnight on Christmas eve after a beautiful meal with my parents, listening to the church bells ring and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the distance.
Walking home by myself New Years morning. Down the Champs-Élysées, through Place de la Concorde, across Pont Alexandre III and past Les Invalides. Feeling the crisp air and the feeling of a new year and a clean slate.
Singing le Marseilles in Place de la Republique with more than million other people.
Sitting on the steps of Sacre Couer and watching the sunset with Penny on her last night before leaving Paris.
Some of these moments have pictures, but not ones that really capture what was happening. No picture can show how much being here has healed me. No selfie can show how I’ve come to value myself in a way I never did before. Even in my best dress, a picture wouldn’t show you how my self-respect grows with each new day and each conversation in French.
When I returned from Amsterdam I e-mailed the young man. He replied that the film had been ruined when he opened the camera, and the picture was lost. So that moment in Amsterdam will remain mine alone, not to be shared. Added to the list of beautiful moments that no picture could really do justice to anyway.