If you’ve ever been to a Baha’i temple, you know how focused the religion is on beauty. In Haifa, Israel, the Baha’i Gardens are probably the most beautifully landscaped and manicured tiers of red, white and green that ever staircased their way from the top of a hill to its bottom. The view of the Mediterranean Sea isn’t bad either. You can walk around for hours, looking at perfectly white spiders on perfectly white roses and perfectly green leaves on perfectly trimmed bushes.
Or, if you’re me, you can spend your whole afternoon by a tiny row of fountains, trying to get the perfect shot of water bubbling up in the sunlight. Of all the man-perfected bits of aesthetic magic, I ended up obsessed with these small spouts. Maybe because the way the water moved and gushed up, fell down, and repeated the process endlessly seemed even more liberating in the context of so much order and meticulously guarded perfection. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Every movement was different, no two photos would ever be the same and if I left, I would miss out on a new detail, a new line, a new reflection of light! It would have been tragic!
Of all the photos I took on that trip to Israel, this one has gotten the most compliments. People are mesmerized by it, sometimes taking a few minutes to figure out what it is. When I took it, lying on my belly in the red dirt, ruining my dress (both with the red clay and then later as I stepped on and ripped it as I stood up), one of the garden’s caretakers stopped to watch. He started laughing at me, saying that in his fifteen years he’d never seen anyone bother to give those fountains a second glance. I stood up and showed him the shots I had been taking. His face got very serious, his eyes wide, and he looked at me quizzically. “You keep doing what you’re doing,” he said, and gave me a big nod with his head and a smile.
I feel like this is the way I go through life and it makes me really happy. I don’t always show people the photos or whatever they metaphorically represent in a given situation, because I don’t feel the need for the approval. That day I wanted to show someone something beautiful right in front of him that I thought he was missing. Overall, though, I am constantly finding myself in situations where it doesn’t occur to me until I see raised eyebrows or hear derisive laughter that I’m doing anything unusual.
Looking at this photo reminds me that I can barely remember a time when this bothered me. It also reminds me that I know what it is I see, and once others see it too, it becomes something wonderful to share. Even if I don’t share it, I know that what I experienced made me feel good, that I gained something and the people passing by and considering me odd will keep walking and remain strangers.
So often people seem to restrict themselves because of what others think, others who are just floating through and not really relevant. They won’t have conversations with you, share thoughts, ideas. They won’t invite you to a sleepover or ask you to bake cupcakes for their birthday party, stay up with you when you’re sad or ask you to hold their hand when they need it. So who cares what they think of you for the few seconds you share space?
Most of the people who have inspired me have been successful, brilliant and in some way bizarre. Originality and seeking approval are mutually exclusive. Whenever I see people give me that look, the one that says “who is this girl and what on earth is wrong with her,” I feel like I must be doing something right. The ones who have stopped to join in are those who are still good friends.