Practicing Presence

It Smells Like Paris

Paris by Yves St. Laurent is one of my favorite fragrances. Don't get me wrong, it smells like old lady. But it also smells like mischievous giggling and sneaking cookies at midnight. It smells like squeezing in close to cuddle in her overstuffed armchair and feeling the remarkable softness of her aged and wrinkled hands. It smells like decades of family portraits and school pictures in mismatched frames lining the narrow, creaky-floored hallway. It smells like an Arizona sunrise and waking up early to watch the quails eat the bird seed Papa scattered every morning. And it smells like the birthday cards she wrote me every year, intentionally spritzed with her perfume so I would know, without even looking, that it was from her.

I like to think that this tradition of spritzing birthday cards with perfume started with the love letters she wrote to my grandfather during World War II, but I can't be sure. I am certain, however, that Grandma got it. She understood that her precious perfume carried with it a lifetime of memories. That, just the slightest hint of her signature fragrance, felt like eating cookies and telling jokes and holding hands.

Fragrance is powerful. Our sense of smell is so strongly connected to our memories that it has the ability to transport us through time and space. That's why my favorite bridal detail to photograph is the perfume. On occasion, a bride will tell me that her perfume bottle is nothing special and doesn't need to be photographed. And in those cases, I politely disagree and say, "Your perfume is the fragrance of your wedding day. It's the scent of the anticipation you feel building inside your belly right now. It's the smell of laughing with your bridesmaids as you reminisce about college and try to keep from smudging your makeup with happy tears. It's the memory of walking down the aisle, holding his hand, saying I do, and being pulled in close for your first dance. Trust me. It's special."

I no longer receive birthday cards from my grandmother, and when I visit her in the Alzheimer's facility she lives in, she's not wearing Paris by Yves St. Laurent. We don't sit in her overstuffed armchair. She doesn't remember the Arizona sunrise or the creaky floor in the hallway, but I do. And when I hold her soft hands and hear her still-mischievous giggle, I think back to sneaking cookies at midnight, and it smells like Paris.

The Good Ol' Days

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I'm a marine biology nerd. I love all things nautical. Blue and white is the color scheme of my life (and most of my closet). Coffee is life. Leather-bound journals are awesome. Pilot gel pens are the only pens. Narwhals are real.

For being a marine biology nerd, it's a bit embarrassing to admit that I didn't discover that last truth until I was in college. Narwhals are the unicorns of the sea, and they totally exist. Mind blown. Much to my dismay, my dear roommate was present during this epiphany and still never tires to remind me (or our friends) of it.

While discovering the existence of these majestic creatures was a crucial revelation in my college career, the most life-changing lesson I learned in college was the practice of being fully present. I had just returned to an empty campus after Christmas break of my senior year, meaning I had one semester left. Just a few more months of the most transformative and exciting times of my life. That reality hit me HARD! I kept picturing my future self saying, "remember the good ol' days?" I found myself sitting alone in my room, crippled by the fact that, very soon, my entire community would just disappear. In a very real sense, I was grieving the loss of something I loved before I had even lost it!

Thankfully, by some divine revelation, I realized that I had become so engrossed in my fears for the future, that I had completely stopped living in the present. A switch flipped. Rather than spending my time imagining what it would be like when all of my friends moved away, I started making the most of my time with them. Every single day I woke up and asked myself, "What are you going to do today that's worth remembering?" As somebody who had always been futuristic and goal-oriented, this new philosophy ROCKED. MY. WORLD. 

It's now four years later, and yes, I consider those the good ol' days. But guess what! Today is the good ol' days, too. Practicing presence is something I continue to do every day. Admittedly, I often forget. Sometimes I get caught up in the rush and let the day slip by. Our culture is pretty good at teaching us how to live for tomorrow. But when I remember, I take a few deep breaths and I grab my journal, or I sit at the edge of the ocean, or I grab coffee with a friend. And in those moments, I do my best to slow down. I take in everything around me and I tell myself to remember this. And it works.

As a wedding photographer, I now believe in the power of presence more than ever. I know from first-hand experience that being fully present results in deeper relationships, truer emotions, and clearer memories. That's why I am so committed to practicing presence with my couples on their wedding day. Beautiful photographs are precious. They will tell your story for years and generations to come, but there is no substitute for being fully present the first time around.

Try it.

 

 

"Bye, Buddy! I hope you find your dad."