A few weeks ago I passed a stand of sumac bushes on my walk. Something about the way the sun struck the leaves maximized their brilliance. Deep reds offset by lustrous yellows and oranges filled me with awe. I stopped to take it all in, regretting I didn’t have my camera with me. I thought, “I’ll have to come by later and take a picture.”
But, of course, later turned into the next day and the day after that and the week after that. Often I passed those sumac bushes while driving to and from home, but either I didn’t have my camera or I didn’t think I had time to stop. Besides, the sun was never exactly as it had been that day when the leaves had looked so vivid. Every time I passed by, I felt a pang of regret: Oh, another miraculous moment squandered!
But this post, ultimately, is not about regret. Yes, I know to seize the moment. One never knows if a chance will come again. And, yes, I need reminders; those leaves served that purpose.
But, this time, the lesson I learned was a little different than I might have expected. Observing how I had taken a magical moment and surrounded it with a sea of “shoulds” and regrets showed me how easy it is rob oneself of beauty and inspiration.The truth is, in the moment, I did notice those leaves and enjoy them thoroughly. I did seize the moment given me. The problem was with what I did next. Instead of being grateful for the amazing sight I had been privileged to witness, I proceeded to want something more from it: a good picture, some proof I had seen what I had seen, some memory of that beautiful sight. And then, instead of remembering the leaves that had filled me with such joy, I created a self-punishing dialogue about the experience of seeing them.
What a lesson in both gratitude and acceptance! Gratitude for having the serendipitous experience of walking by precisely at that brilliant moment. Acceptance for the moment as it was, unadorned by my desires or expectations of myself. Once I could work my way to gratitude and acceptance, I could drop the “shoulds” and regrets.
Then, a few days ago, I was walking home from the bus stop. I passed that stand of sumacs again. This time I was carrying my phone, so I was able to take a picture. No, the sun wasn’t just right. Yes, the leaves were less brilliant and moving irrevocably closer to decay. But the colors were still beautiful. Even more important, the picture I ultimately took now reminds me that letting go of “shoulds” and regrets allows those special moments to take on the splendor they deserve.