We were six or seven years old at the time, he and I. Although we were cousins, the distance between Brazil and Canada meant we hardly knew each other, but of course that rarely matters to kids. Friendship takes mere minutes.
It was winter in the late 1960’s. Christmas, actually. A cold snap had enveloped Vancouver Island, but it didn’t hamper our daily excursions to introduce he and his sister to the part of the world his father had grown up in. One afternoon’s adventure, though, would remain etched in my memory for the last 45 years.
Happily occupying the backseat together for the unbearably long drive, our umpteenth game of Eye Spy was interrupted by an announcement from the front seat. “It’s snowing!”
Our backs promptly straightened to peer out of the window to witness the flakage for ourselves. Immediately I began to list grand plans for snowmen, snowball fights, and carving snow angels in undisturbed blankets of snow. I looked at my cousin to confirm his shared enthusiasm for my plans, but what I saw was an expression I didn’t quite recognize. “Why wasn’t he nodding his head, jumping up and down, and agreeing with me?”, I thought to myself. Recognizing my confusion, my grandmother smiled and offered, “He’s never seen snow before.”
My grandfather pulled the car over so that my cousins could fully experience the snowy white puff balls that were falling from the sky. I remember watching my cousin intently. He didn’t say a word. His head was tilted back. His eyes were intense. He raised his arms above his head, his upward-facing palms wide open. Slowly he lowered his open hands to his chest, so he could get a closer look at what he had caught.
That was the first time I remember witnessing wonder, and I’ve never forgotten the impact it had on me. There is a kind magic that occurs when things are seen with fresh eyes, and I instantly adored the sensation.
As the decades marched on, and I raised my own children, we've been blessed with a glorious amount of those magical moments, which usually prompted me to think about my cousin’s experience that day. Its impact permanently set my mental radar to be on the lookout for those moments of wonder and awe. The magic is electric, and filled with possibility, and I want as many as I can in this one lifetime. Some years ago I stumbled upon a quote written by French novelist Marcel Proust that added a much-valued layer to the whole idea of wonder and seeing with fresh eyes.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Can we develop new eyes on purpose? I think it's imperative. The longer we’ve seen or known something, or even someone, the less we tend to see them. I think it's a human condition. Familiarity and usualness can cause a kind of blindness that slowly steals wonder, awe, and sometimes even gratitude. At the very heart of fresh eyes is curiosity, and I hope I remember to be curious about everyone and everything for my days here on earth.
The essence of Proust’s quote is also one of the reasons I fell in love with photography. Even if I’m photographing my thousandth sunrise, or the millionth flower, each time I look through the lens I get a pair of fresh eyes, and get that hit of magic I’ve come to cherish.
The true gift of Proust’s quote, however, is when I discovered how to embody his message with respect to the big stuff… me, my life, and the people in it. Fresh eyes are a conscious decision – and not always an easy one – but what I know for certain is that they have allowed me to continue to celebrate who I am, what I’m doing, and who I’m with...no matter how old I get, how long I've been doing the thing, or how long I've known someone.
Thank you, cousin, Mr. Proust and of course Mr. Jones. Whether you’ve known it or not, you’ve all been my guides for how to celebrate what’s right in my world.