From: Maya Salem <email@example.com>
To: S <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Quick, take a picture!
Last Friday night, a friend took me to the ocean. Ordinarily, I would be skeptical, but he told me we were going to see the bioluminescence. I scoured local news to find anything referring to a sighted luminescing in the area, but I found none. We went to the beach at low tide and watched the waves for several minutes. We sat on the cliff in silence, only remarking that we should have brought a thicker jacket. The gray clouds coming off the water met the remnant storm clouds from the mountains with a cold front. But in front of us, the waves were electric; we couldn’t help but be mesmerized by their glow.
As we walked down onto the sand, we searched for little pockets of water in the rock. With a stick, we played with the water. With a simple touch, sparkles were sent in ripples across the little lakes. Blue shimmers circled in the eddies we drew. On the saturated sand, we wrote runes that lasted a few seconds. We sang the themes to “Harry Potter,” frolicking in the dark with our wands of broken tree branches, the only lights in the distance being a couple constellations and the sparkling oil rig a couple miles out.
Amazed, I pulled out my phone to capture the moment. I hit record on a video and watched the screen turn black. I agitated the water, but no blue sparkles appeared on the screen. I hopped over to another puddle and splashed the water. Nothing again. Slightly discouraged, I turned off the video and put away my phone.
I kept staring at the stick in my hand, letting the voices of our generation float around my head: “pics or it didn’t happen…” That wasn’t exactly it, though. I wanted to save this moment for myself for the future or send it to my mom to say, “look at this cool thing I saw!” I had seen bioluminescence before, but this was different and didn’t feel as though simply describing the experience with words was enough to embody the magic of it all.
This evening brought me to consider, as I swept the puddles with my little stick, the magic of uncaptured moments. Most of my favorite memories are not captured in photos but rather in treasured capsules and soundbits in the recesses of my mind. The mundane scene of watching a friend make dinner in a cramped I.V. apartment. Or watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy for the first time as the sounds of Friday evening parties float across the streets.
There are also the moments that I love to have captured, solitary, not so much frozen in time but rather a reminder to remember that particular time. Like the first sunset I watched over Sands Beach after weeks of rain during the pandemic. The clouds had finally begun to lift and as the low tide stretched endlessly — the world looked expansive and full of life. A dog and its walker make the first prints into the soft sand, and a jogger bounds in the other direction. Two years later, this golden image remains my laptop’s screensaver, and I never tire of staring at it.
In these days of countless images and emblazoned digital memories, is there a time to take a picture and a time to savor a moment? Or can we have both?
And now, as I look at that video of pure black at the beach last week, filled only with the sounds of water splashing and my sigh, I wonder if I should delete it. Will my memory serve on its own? Or will the moment fade away without a photo to remember it by?
A version of this article appeared on pg. 12 of the Jan. 26, 2023 edition of the Daily Nexus.