There is a difference between seeing and noticing. We see all the time. We rarely notice. We rarely take the time to slow down and really look at what is going on. We are often in such a hurry that we take a glance and then go on, missing most of everything.
It helps to look at stop-motion animation or to take pictures of things as they are growing. I had a project once. I took a picture of the same tree, from the same spot, at the same time every Tuesday for a year. I saw the tree change and evolve, grow and decay from one season to the next. I stood in rain and snow. I changed a little when I did that project. I’d wanted to do it for a long time, and then I finally decided that it was time to start. Then I was committed to it. I posted the weekly picture on my personal Facebook page, and it turned out that my friends looked forward to it.
There was something personally transforming about that project. I don’t know whether it was because I finally got over my inertia (a common malady) or I finally actually noticed that tree, or both, but I changed. I started to look at everything this way, and wonder what else I was missing, and wonder when I was going to start other projects I’d thought about for a long time.
I almost missed being able to complete that project. The tree, a Bradford Pear, was on the lot of a Chinese buffet that I went to. I’d gone there for at least a decade. It was a fixture of the community. It was just something that was always there. Until it wasn’t. I was three-quarters through my project and they closed. They had bought the competition and moved. Now, I could no longer go to lunch there and just walk out afterwards at 12:45 on a Tuesday and take the picture. I had to go eat quickly elsewhere, and then drive over there to get that shot.
I was committed to that time, and that place, and that day. The project depended on being consistent.
I contemplated cancelling the project. I was almost done. It was good enough. My friends changed my mind – they’d come to look forward to that tree, in the same way that I had. I redoubled my efforts and completed the project.
If I’d waited a few months longer to start the project, it would have been that much more difficult to finish. There could have been a bad storm and the tree could have been damaged, or it could have succumbed to rot and been taken out. I could have missed the whole thing before I even began.
Other things happened as well, to me. I’d suddenly had to buy a different car, and I’d had to have surgery to remove a precancerous spot. I started going to the Y. I started journaling again. Perhaps it was all linked – I started paying attention.
Here is a selection of the pictures for you. (I’ve made another change – I’ve edited this to have ALL the pictures. This is a meditation on how we can always go back and fix things. Our work doesn’t have to be “perfect” at the start.)
The first picture, 7-27-10
6-7-11. Three whole weeks missed. Sick, vacation, and then a going-away party for someone at work. I was starting to think about cancelling the project. The place was sold and it was hard to get here on time every week now.
7-26-11 -and we are back around to the beginning. Not a lot looks different, but a lot has happened.
The lot is now a Zaxby’s. I’m standing in the drive-through lane. The entire building was torn down and the foo-dogs were removed, much to the chagrin of the the former owner, who wanted them back. They cost $10K each. This picture was not taken on a Tuesday at 1 pm as all the others were, because I can’t get here at that time anymore because of where I work now. This was around three on a Friday. Yet another change. My father always said “You just adjust and adjust and adjust, and then you die.”
Here are more pictures of that area, taken after the buffet had closed.