“You Helped Me See”—An Encounter I’ll Remember


Recently I had the good fortune to photograph in northern France for several days by myself.  One afternoon found me making images on the beach of the village of Etretat, in an area known for its soaring white cliffs. As the sun descended, I made my way up the high trail to the south with my camera and tripod. Then, just before sunset, I retraced my steps down toward the beach, anticipating the evening colors that might appear in the sky.

A handsome couple approached me on their way up, and the man stopped and said something to me in French. I responded that I did not understand, that I spoke only English. He looked away, paused, then looked back. In retrospect I realize he hesitated to proceed to speak with me due to how limited he felt his English was. But he did proceed anyway.

“You photographed on the beach earlier, no?”

I nodded.

“You turned in many directions; you took your time with each picture. It was lovely to watch.”

He looked into my face to make sure I was following.

“It was so beautiful: the sea, the sky, the cliffs. But this was also beautiful: you standing in the middle of it all, photographing all that was before you. This afternoon you helped me to see the beauty that I might not have seen.”

He held up his hand to count first with his thumb and then with his fingers as the French do. “There were four beautiful things this afternoon: the sea, the cliffs, the sky, and you. And you were just as important as the other three things. I will remember that sight for a long time.”

Then he touched me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you.” I reached back for his shoulder and said, “Thank you!” Then we walked on in opposite directions, grateful in different ways for what we had experienced.

My story is more than just my story. It is a universal story. It’s a reminder that any of us can be giving a lift to someone’s day, we can be offering them an insight or an inspiration they’ll long remember, and we won’t even be aware of it, unless they happen to cross our path unexpectedly, and then make the effort to tell us.

Yet whether they tell us or not, still it happened, and we will have made a difference simply by being authentically who we are, simply by being genuinely alive, simply by doing whatever it is we do best, in the moment that they observed us.
That’s all. And ultimately, that is everything.

3 Responses to ““You Helped Me See”—An Encounter I’ll Remember”

  1. Katherine Says:

    It is good to be reminded that we are observed and can make a difference for another. Thanks for this.

  2. Karen Says:

    I was thinking that I wish I had more confidence in myself this morning. I work with people at the end of life, and their families, every day. Often I feel I am just not quite up to what is required, which I know is simply my presence, to be fully engaged, but always I have this feeling that I am not doing enough. Your story helps me to see that it’s fine for me to just keep being fully present, myself, aware, and doing the best that I possibly can. I will try to keep this story in mind as I go through my day, talking with family members, terminally ill patients, and bereaved individuals. Thank you.

  3. Sheryl Says:

    Jim, thank you for sharing this beautiful experience. It reminds us all that to appreciate the value and beauty of the individual person in the context and vastness of the universe is a challenge for each of us to attempt to cultivate.

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