“How to See the World,” column for March 22, 2016

Children know things their elders forget: How to be happy. How to have fun. How not to care if you get sand in your shorts. How to see the world with all its wonders as if for the very first and very last time.

I’m sitting by a window in a borrowed house on a hill above Monterey Bay, watching tourists stop to take photos. Luckily, they aren’t taking photos of me. They’re taking photos of the coast. Or maybe photos of themselves at the coast to post on Facebook.

I’ve been watching them off and on all day _ a steady stream of cars, trucks, SUVs, mini-vans, campers and even caravans. They pull into the parking lot of the “scenic overlook” and take a minute to collect phones or cameras or toddlers. Then they get out of their vehicles and head to the prime spot for a panoramic view of the coast.

Depending on the size of the group, they assemble side by side, shorter in front, taller in the rear, with their backs to the bay and big smiles on their faces as if to say, “Look at us, we are here, and you are not.”

Then the one who snaps the photo trades places with someone and they pose again. When the photos are done, they pile back in their vehicles and drive on to the next photo op. On average, start to finish, it takes three minutes. Not that I’ve timed it. I’m just saying.

What surprises me _ and I bet it will surprise you, too _ is this: Of all the people I saw stopping there today, only a few actually seemed to be present. To feel the earth beneath their feet. To hear the wind in the pines. To smell the salt in the air (if only by imagination.) To say “hello” and “where are you from?” to other travelers. And to marvel at the view that drew them to stop. Most seemed content to snap a shot and get back on the road.

There were exceptions. Four or five young couples, perhaps newlyweds, arrived throughout the day and, after taking the usual “selfie,” spent quite a lot of time gazing, not at the view, but into each other’s eyes.

I had no problem with that.

Also, an older couple sat on a bench holding hands, studying the horizon. I couldn’t see their faces. I hoped they were smiling and not trying to remember how to get back to their hotel.

My favorite exception was a boy about 7. He stood alone on a rock with his arms stretched wide staring out at the ocean. What did he see? A sailboat? A whale spout? All his wildest dreams coming true?

A woman, maybe his mother, made him join her for a photo. Then he went back to staring until it was time to go. Whatever he saw, he probably won’t need a photo to remember it.

I spend a lot of time looking at electronic screens, seeing the world secondhand in bits and bytes. My cell phone buzzes like a beehive with messages, emails, videos, good things mostly that I want or need to see.

Screens help us stay connected to the people we love. But they can also make us miss things far too important to miss: The colors of a sunset through the lens of our eyes, rather than through the lens of a camera. The smile of a child telling us a secret he will tell no one else. The danger _ possibly fatal _ of a car braking in front of us. The peace and quiet we seem to find only in peace and quiet.

But screens aren’t really the problem. The problem is how we use them or allow them to use us. I like screens a lot. I’m not giving them up. You shouldn’t either. How on earth would we keep in touch?

But sometimes it’s such a pleasure to set them aside and stand like a child by the ocean, with eyes and arms and heart wide open, seeing the world with all its wonders as if for the very first and very last time.

There’s a name for that kind of pleasure. It’s called being alive.


  1. Mariruth Coffin says

    Sharon, I’m so glad you’re in Monterey to enjoy the beauty of this place. While I love to take just the right photo at the water’s edge so that it will be artistic and creative, I enjoy the Creator’s version far more. One of the places I like to visit is “my tree.” It’s where I used to go when a junior at PGHS. the tree has a trunk sized branch so low that I can climb on it to straddle and stare down on the small sandy cove. I would sit there and day dream or read a book in complete solitude. there is no solitude at “my tree” anymore. It is on the PG Rec Trail. Still, I go there to remember, reflect, breathe in the salty air, watch for otters. I still count the waves rolling in so that the seventh one is the biggest one. I still love the lacey water on the sand and the rocky shore. But now I share it with hundreds of bikers, hikers, strollers, dogs, and even people who take wedding pictures right next to “my tree.”

  2. I love your articles so glad you are back in the paper. When you were not in the paper I thought to myself why do these newspaper take out such good articles , and good writers you and another lady I do read also .

  3. Marion Ingber says

    Years before moving to this glorious area, when our MO license plate read O2BNPB, we started our love affair with this amazing area. Decades after moving here we still (nearly daily) marvel at its beauty and and our good fortune to be able to enjoy it as we do – camera no longer needed.

  4. This really resonated with me. I hoped to share it with my Facebook friends, as so many of our younger generation need to understsnd this, as well as many of us older ones too. I was unable to do so…the share button would not work…just sayin

  5. thank you so much for reminding us to put the screen away and live in the present moment ?That is what I am going to do till night falls and morning comes to remind us to stay in touch from heart to heart no matter what with all we love . thank You so much for wise thoughts , we stay in touch with you with this wonderful screen !!

  6. Jo Anne Roberts says

    Agreed. Live in the present, listening to the birds and frogs, feeling the moist air and warm sunshine, listening to the music of your life, loving the precious people you love. Today is all you have. Spend it wisely. Tomorrow will never come for some. Don’t blow today.

  7. Sheila Torres says

    So very true! I’m 70 and I learned that always taking pictures makes you truly lose the moment. I finally learned to stop because as you said, the moment and all its beauty stays a memory in our hearts and doesn’t Ned to be captured in a picture.

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