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Random Bits and Pieces

On Life, Photography, and the Story of a Flower

The last couple of days Facebook has been nothing but politics, and this is a topic I try to stay away from. I needed something refreshing, and the picture of a rose a friend of mine had posted caught my eye. His story was as profound as it was captivating. It doesn’t have much to do with Washington, but it has a lot to do with the simple things we take for granted. And since the motto of the Re-Discover Washington blog is “Appreciate What You’ve Got” I got Matt’s permission to publish his story and I am allowing myself to do so. If you find it irrelevant, please close this page. If you resonate with it, please pass it along. Sometimes we all need to take a moment and smell the flowers…

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour." William Blake (Photo by Matthew Cowan)


Story by guest blogger Matthew Cowan:

It’s been a pretty profound week for me. I’m going to try to explain it all by telling the story of this flower. This is a long story.

I don’t pretend to be a great photographer, and I don’t have enough knowledge of my camera or the process, but I can still get the settings close enough to what I need and snap the button to get the picture I usually want. I’ve learned that in photography, nothing is more precious than time. For example, when I first walked out to look at this rose this morning, I saw ice crystals on it – we’d had our first real freeze here and this would be the last rose of the year. I had no camera on me, so I ran into the house and got things together as fast as I could – but by the time I got back, the ice crystals had melted, and while I was still able to get a decent shot with the water drops, I wasn’t able to capture the majesty of what I’d first seen.

If you start taking photos, you start to realize the fragility of every moment – life gives us these tender kisses of beauty that we’re lucky to see and even luckier if we can snap. Sometimes these things only last for a moment before the composition changes – the sun moves a fraction of an inch or the temperature changes half a degree and you’ve lost the shot you wanted.

This parallels something else I’ve been thinking about this week – I’ve been thinking about the fragility of life. The whole reason I’d gone out to look at the roses was because my mother wanted to give a rose to a woman who has cancer – today was her birthday. So this flower was clipped and given to her. The space between life and death is at times beautiful, at times painful – sometimes the composition is perfect and sometimes things are just a bit off.

I’d started having dizziness in the mornings about a week ago – I tried to tough it out for a few days but then I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Labyrinthitis, which has something to do with the inner ear and how my brain puts together the whole picture it gets from all my senses (the light from my eyes, the fluids in my head, etc.). I got prescribed a few meds (including Valium, which I’m never going to take again). As the week went on and I took the medicine, my symptoms decreased but they were still there – and on Friday, they worsened. I was really scared – I was almost at the end of my medication and instead of the problem being fixed it was getting worse.

I was so scared that when I went to lunch I didn’t dare drive. I mistakenly thought the Hot Dog Guy was going to be on Fifth Street at lunch (he wasn’t there until later in the day), so I walked all the way from the Riverfront to uptown, because if this was a serious condition, I was going to make sure every last meal I had was exactly what I wanted to eat. When I got there, and he wasn’t there, there was nothing for me to do but wander from restaurant to restaurant, looking at the specials boards. There was nothing that I wanted. Eventually I settled for buying a Sun Drop and a bag of pretzels and getting back to work – I had a deadline to meet, after all – and I was producing a piece of work I’m quite proud of, so I knew I had to get back to it.

I finished out the end of the day – after eating the pretzels, my dizziness started to go away and I felt better. I went running on the Riverfront trail, and I made sure to pay attention to my surroundings every step of the way – not just because I was afraid I might lose my balance, but because I wanted to remember the colors of the leaves, the sight of the river, the calls of the birds, and just the feeling of being alive with the wind rushing by me. I went five miles even though I had only wanted to go four at the start – and at the end I felt even better still.

I got home, and I got a phone call from a friend who had a fire going and some friends around. I told him I’d bring marshmallows and cocoa – obviously I didn’t want to drink (mixing dizziness and Valium and alcohol seemed really dangerous). I’d told him before I got there that there were a few things I wanted to talk about – but once I got to the fire, I just started listening to other people. I didn’t talk about my own problems much, I just listened – and that’s the best thing you can do some times when you think you have problems.

There was a fellow there who’d crossed the law on occasion and had been unlucky enough to be caught a few times. We talked a lot and eventually it got to the meaning of life and what comes next – and what we’d like to ask God when it was all over (my favorite – “are the cops still gonna be harassing me in heaven?”). Anyway, the best meaning of life I could come up with was family and the people you love. I think I was close, but I want to add on a few things.

There is more than one angle to look at a rose and capture its beauty, just like there is more than one angle to look at the things that happen to us in life. We choose how to react and attitude is everything.

I think I’d like to add that the meaning of life comes from what you put into it and get out of it. The moments where you find unspeakable and uncapturable beauty (like the frost crystals on the last rose of the year) – you only find those if you look for them. And the moments you have when you connect with others, when you share both their troubles and their triumphs – you only find those if you really listen and you are willing to share your time. So take more photos. Tell more jokes. Smile more. Walk through nature. Be less judgemental and more understanding. Try to find serenity wherever you can. Live your life so you are at peace with yourself and others. Forgive others if they do you wrong and forgive yourself when you make mistakes. 

Anyway, in conclusion – my last dose of Valium was before bed that night. After taking it, I had the strangest dreams – it was like some outside, dark force was trying to talk to me and deceive me, but I was able to realize I was dreaming and it wasn’t real. It was a very scary experience but somehow I got through it. When I woke up I was slightly dizzy, but nothing major.

Last night, I didn’t take any Valium, and I had a wonderful and funny dream (which I shared earlier on Facebook – you can go back on my timeline and read it if you want). I woke up with absolutely no dizziness. I felt great with the extra hour of sleep, and then I walked outside and saw this rose. And even though I didn’t capture the perfect composition of that flower with those frost crystals that was so beautiful that only some being with talents beyond an artist could create (I’m talking about God but trying not to be preachy), I at least tried to capture the picture as best as I could.

And then I went to the woman’s house with cancer. I didn’t think it would be a long stay – I’d never met her before, she was only my mother’s friend. But almost instantly we began talking about the roses, how I’d planted them years ago, tended them, battling the harsh winters and the draught to get that particular rose to this particular moment – where it could be shared and seen, but only for a little while before it faded away. And then we talked about landscaping, and then about how our planet was being destroyed – seriously, arsenic in drinking water, oil in the oceans, these big weather events (draughts, record storms every year, record temperatures) – and we all know things are changing but there’s too much money involved in doing things the old way.

So, fragility – that has been on my mind – the fragility of every single moment, of life itself, and of our planet. We need to do more to take care of each other and stop arguing about politics so much and just start getting things done – we all share such a brief time on this Earth and we’re all in it together.

Nature is resilient and so are we. This world is not beyond repair, and neither are we no matter how far we fall (I am a true testament to that if you know about my past). We can do better if we tend to our own gardens.

Thank you for reading my thoughts.

Matthew Cowan is a graphic designer. you can follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/mnc404 and visit his website mnc4.com. Take a look at some of the websites he has created for downtown businesses:  http://www.discoveroutdoors.us/https://americanexpedition.us/http://modoughcoupons.com/ 


About Slava

Bulgarian-born explorer in the USA, re-discovering the world through the lens.


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