Why Do You Take Pictures of Flowers? (or, How I Learned to Slow Down and See the World)

flowers 2People that follow me on Facebook and Twitter ask me all the time, “Why do you take so many pictures of flowers?” Friends at parties ask me the same question, and once in a while, someone will walk past me as I’m taking a picture, and look at me like I’m a bit weird. I guess that in the broad scheme of things, I don’t strike people as the sort who takes pictures of flowers, and then posts them on Instagram. I find myself explaining why I take these pictures on a regular basis, and I don’t mind sharing it with anyone who wants to listen (or in this case read).

flower 5If I were to pinpoint when it all really started, I would have to say that it began on July 4, 2012. I was walking to a friend’s house for a barbecue, when I just happened to notice an odd-looking flower I’d never seen before. I stopped and studied it, and was amazed at its color and shape, and kind of wished I could take a picture of it. About a block later, I saw the same flower in another yard, and was fascinated by it. A few blocks later, I saw a woman, tending to her flowerbed, and she had the same flower growing. I asked her what it was, and she told me it was a Lucifer flower, also known as a Crocosmia (that’s it, above and to the left). We talked for a few moments, while I wished I could take a picture of this thing, when it dawned on me that I had a camera on Samsung Galaxy media player. I asked her if I could take a picture, telling her I’d never seen a flower like that before. While I was taking the picture, it dawned on me that every flower in the woman’s garden was foreign to me. And that’s when it dawned on me that not once in my life had I ever really stopped and looked at flowers. I told this to the woman, and she looked like she was about to cry.

I continued on to my friend’s house, but as I walked, I stopped and looked at flowers along the way. It sounds like a sad cliché, but it felt like an entire world had opened up to me. A few days later, I went for a walk with the sole purpose of looking at flowers and taking a few pictures. It was perhaps the most relaxing day I’d had in years.

While all of this was going on, one of my oldest friends was nearing the end of his life. Paul West, who was younger than me, had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and he was close to dying. I would visit him regularly at the nursing home, where he was in hospice, and the entire process—walking into the place, visiting with him, watching him slipping away, and then going home—was beyond words. It felt soul crushing.

flower 4One day, I didn’t have the strength to go in and see Paul. I had parked my car, walked to the entrance of the nursing home, but the thought of watching him die, left me emotionally crippled. I stood outside the nursing home, and all of a sudden, I noticed that there were flowers blooming everywhere. As it had been on the Fourth of July, I became mesmerized by all the amazing colors and shapes. Feeling a bit energized by the flowers, I went inside to see Paul. I told him about the flowers, and asked if he’d been outside, but he hadn’t. The heat was oppressive that summer, and his sickness left him in a condition where he couldn’t go outside. So, I went outside and started taking pictures for him.

I was trying to make sense of the world, and come to grips with the reality of Paul’s death, which I knew would be coming soon. I was more bitter and cynical than usual, and in a deep depression, as I questioned the meaning of life and the ugliness that seemed to be everywhere. But there were these beautiful flowers, blooming all around me. I began to realize that even in the midst of death and the ugliness of the moment, there was beauty, if I just stopped long enough to look at it.

randomnessAnd that’s how I started taking pictures of flowers—I slowed down long enough to see the beauty in the world. Then I started looking around me for more than just beauty. I started looking for the interesting, the weird, and the funny—all of which is everywhere, if we just slow down enough to see the world that surrounds us. So, when you see me posting pictures of flowers, or public art, or graffiti, or a toilet sitting on a loading dock, know that for a brief moment I have stopped worrying about whatever is stressing me out, or being overwhelmed by the negativity of the world, and that I am appreciating what is around me. Don’t worry that I’m going insane, because the truth is the exact opposite.

Check out more of my random photos on Instagram.

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