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What do you see here?

In 2018, I left my little world in Denver to go travel for a while. There were three factors that led to this decision:

  1. I had come out the year before and felt like I had experienced reality for the first time. I wanted to see what else I was missing.
  2. I turned 40 and felt like I hadn’t lived on my terms.
  3. I had worked full-time and worked overtime every chance I could since I was 14. I was tired.

I was surrounded by validation of what a great life I built because I was successful, but I was hurting. I was in constant stress. I was breaking.

I had not traveled much, so I knew it would take a lot of learning. I was prepped and ready as the summer of my 41st birthday came and went. The next week, I boarded my flight to Croatia, and the journey began.

Travel is often sold as the missing link to whatever you long for. I never felt this. I knew life would feel differently to me when traveling, but a few things I learned for myself around week two:

  1. I prefer solo travel as much as possible.
  2. I will never do a guided tour with a group of people I don’t know.
  3. I love exploring all day, by foot, as much as I can while taking photos.

#3 has shaped all of my travels since. If there isn’t a lot of space for me to walk for miles and snap photos, it is not a fit. If there aren’t blocks on blocks of everyday life that are accessible so I can sit in unplanned cafes and read while people around me speak a language I don’t know, I don’t need it.

I have some incredible memories of traveling. Most of them are moments where I was alone, and something mundane allowed me to be still. A hike, a view, a sunset from a last-minute trip to the Azores Islands.

These are things you want to remember. These are things you want to share.

Azores Islands, Ponta Delgada, November 2018

As I have rebuilt my life over the past five years, I have always included long walks with the option of taking photos. I have always seen the world in pictures.

In my head, when you describe things, I see them. Sometimes, I feel them.

And, by taking pictures, it feels like I am validating the way my mind works while also having a reason to share.

This has become a ritual.

And I have added a lot of day trips to my ritual.

Traveling long-term (months) is over for me for now.
The slower pace, having a home, and rebuilding from the transition of being tired/afraid, and lonely workaholic is now an intentional writer who has a much closer understanding of what he needs to feel life’s meaning.

On my recent day trip, I finally got to Longwood Gardens, which was a quick hour away. I had heard about this space for months and put it on my calendar to make sure it happened.

I picked a weekday when there would be fewer crowds, and with my phone/camera tightly gripped, I entered the gardens and…. went to eat a huge chicken salad croissant and a massive chocolate chip cookie.

Stomach and childhood fulfilled, off I go.

Longwood Gardens has an interesting history. I was reading about it as I walked along its paved roads with bright pink and white petals hanging overhead. I love the sense of protection under trees whose heavy-hanging bloomed branches give you a tunnel effect. As if in that moment, all your energy, emotions, desire to feel free, is safe to be explored. As if nothing bad can happen when sitting below trees that hold you.

I am snapping away. I am kneeling down, hovering over, doing all the things to snap photos that I can share. I send photos weekly to my friend Shirley. She can tell me the names of things when it comes to gardens. If she knows I am out exploring, I know she will be ready for photos, which comforts me.

I also think about social media and my online group. “They have to see this.” “They have to know about this.” This is my way of sharing a part of how my mind works. When I see something beautiful, I want to hold what reflects beauty in it and share it to make sure others take from it what they need.

I get impatient with people. In case you missed the 438 subtle hints, I don’t like crowds. And on this day, the gardens were crowded.

And, I get in my head, and walk past other people and forget they are having their experience too.

I wait for people to move, so the picture is more….picturesque?

The pink and white blooms. They are bright, and while I don’t typically love bright colors, I love the way they blend with green, brown, and blueish-gray sky.

Snap, snap, snap.

It’s the tunnel. It’s walking below it and feeling like you got what you came for because this was the expectation…to have something exceed your expectations…

Snap, snap, snap. I wish she would move.

The red on her coat is too bright. I want the muted colors and I want the perfect picture to show that I have an eye for beauty.

Snap, snap, snap. I take more shots.

The pink and white dance among the green.

They tell you they are here for the time being and to come enjoy their beauty. Walk alongside them, and feel lucky that on this day, they have bloomed in time for you to see them at their best.

For you to see and know the beauty in them.

The red coat.

As soon as she moves along, I will be able to snap just the tops of the green, to make sure I miss the patched concrete too.

The red coat among the softer pink and white. Harder for my eyes to focus on what I am trying to see.

The red coat.

She stayed awhile. So, I stayed awhile.

This particular path hovered over the people. The way the colors connected at the top and then spilled on one another–a nature canvas for us to walk along.

If only I could get the softer colors.

Beauty. Color. Nature. Gardens. Reserved ticket. Specific time slot to enter. Beauty. Beauty. Beauty.

She stays, and I stay again.

I was waiting impatiently when I realized how selfish my thoughts were.

If only her coat blended more.

Or, if she moved along.

My mind tends to think on one track. I have to constantly ask myself other options I am not thinking about.

And, I thought I could move along, but there was a stir in me to wait a little longer.

And, in that waiting, my heart met up with my mind, and new thoughts came.

I am so rushed to comfort myself with how beauty is packaged and sold, that I miss the obvious.

The red coat.

The red coat that offers warmth to this present woman who is among the trees.

The way she was willing to pause.

She was seeing something I did not see. It was a moment and experience for her. A present moment. Still. She is completely still. She is taking in what is being offered, and I am trying to rush her so I can make my version of beauty the most aesthetic.

The red coat.

The pop of color on a subtle backdrop. The person who has a soul, and a heartbeat, and probably heartache from different points in her life.

She has come to these gardens and is taking in what they are trying to tell her about beauty.

But the thing is, all those flowers are protected. They have the best care, and there are signs about what is and is not allowed, so their beauty and bloom are always intact.

But, when the lady in the red coat leaves the garden, she will not have that same protection.

She will hear honking in traffic, and she will have to see a stranger yell about something offensive that makes the news, and she will have to pay her bills that month. And with no protection or sign, or anyone paying to come to see her and stand before her and say, “You….are….stunning.”

The flowers are beautiful. They have been well kept. And they express beauty. But, not the envious kind.

We are sold ideas about beauty and experiences that have us leaving ourselves to create something better—to run away from who we are and to repackage so we can arrive beautiful for others, but with no ticket sales, no profits.

Choosing to experience beauty in the moment takes courage. To see something that opens us up, and pause, to stop all the other criticisms and all the other loud noises from telling us how to see it.

Choosing to believe in your own beauty is brave. Beyond brave.

Imagine if the lady in the red coat knew someone was irritated by her beauty. Her courage in taking in what was being offered and for one small moment allowing everything else to fade.

She knew something I didn’t—in real time. She knew to pause. She knew that in order to feel what the pink and white were trying to provoke in her, she would have to be still.

I hope that the pause helped preserve her reflections on how important she is.

Those flowers and gardens and all their bright colors don’t have much value without someone who can take them in.

Us too. All of us.

All…of…us…beautiful.

But this world shapes it and sells it in a way that tells us we have to become, become, become, and we have to fight back to say “I … already … AM!”

That happens in the pauses where you accept that you are being deceived by anything that tells you, you will have more worth or value when….

When what?

When….what??

I type this from my corner chair in my cozy apartment. My currently-being-read books are on my window seal to the right, while my already-read books are all tucked on my bookcases to my left. The sunlight is showing me, today in particular, how much my hands have aged.

I don’t say aged as if to say they shouldn’t have. It’s what hands do. But there is always this ache in me that wants to scream back at life and say, “But it’s not fair!”

All the things I did not know. Living a life that I thought was what I was supposed to do, and then living a life where you realize you know a lot about trauma and feel like you know so little about so much else.

I pull my hands off my laptop and squeeze my fingers to release their stiffness.

I imagine how you will receive this.

If you will understand the importance of accepting your own beauty. If you could pinpoint the things that get sold to you that end up seeming to be more important…than you.

I pop my knuckles. I know. I know. It’s bad. But, there is way more that has to be a priority for now.

My aging hands hit by sunlight. And, I need to see the beauty in this moment. So, I do not miss what is here. So, as I get up from my chair, and stretch my back, I go about my day feeling, myself, importantly beautiful.

I look at her again. I see her red coat as the beautiful light that gave the flowers and their path meaning. And, I see as she has paused, she has pulled her arms behind her back, and cupped her hands together.

She is open, from the chest. She is allowing the beauty above and beside to come straight to her in the most vulnerable ways. Because I think she probably knows that moment would have been lost if she did not allow herself to just be.

Hands cupped together. Heart open.

That is what I will do. This is what we all should do: take in the things that are pulling at us, our vulnerabilities, and our pain, and remind ourselves that we are the moment.

Her red coat. Her arms pulled back. Her hands cupped. What a gift to witness such beauty and to pause and ask myself how to allow that to provoke more of the beauty in me.

I’m glad you’re here.

Nate

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