COLUMN SIX: I image, therefore I am

Look at what good taste I have. BIGSTOCK PHOTO

Special to the VOICE

“If you didn’t insta the super-moon, did it even happen?”

The post on Facebook by a young friend made me smile. Then I thought about it.

What feeds our desire these days to record every moment of our lives as if we were chronicling history?

Do we need these selfies to prove that we even happened?

Imago ergo sum—I image therefore I am.

An acquaintance spoke of lining up at the Louvre for over an hour to view the Mona Lisa. She said most of the people ahead of her stopped at the portrait when their turn came, just long enough to take a selfie. Then they moved off to the next thing, while sending the photo to everyone they knew.

One day they might look at the photo and wish they had turned around to look at the painting.

I spent super-moon day last summer at the local peach festival, an annual event. The town was closed off to traffic, and stalls were put up on the main street for farmers selling their peaches and spin-offs: peach pies, salsa, ice cream and frozen daiquiris.

Live music played all day. A swing band from Toronto, a celtic band from Burlington, a Scottish pipes and drums marching band, and a variety of other musical performers all took turns entertaining the large crowd.

Among the sideshows, an acrobat perched on a six-foot unicycle and juggled flaming torches before a transfixed gathering of onlookers.

Visitors of all ages strolled up and down, taking in the music, the fine weather and the peaches. On restaurant patios, servers moved among the tables, balancing plates on their arms and pouring out glasses of the local wines.

The sun flared out of a sapphire sky, and a light breeze ruffled the maples and chestnuts shading the sidewalks. It was the kind of day that would imprint itself on the minds of young and old—a that’s-what-summers-were-like-back-then kind of day. It was becoming one of those timeless moments where you don’t actually think you’re a kid again, but that you never were anything else. You shed the years like a winter coat. All the things that had happened which aged you seemed not to have happened yet, because this was exactly how you felt before they did.

The weather centre promised, come evening, that the moon would rise into the night sky and hang there, like a giant peach.

Then I saw something that brought me back to earth with a bump.

A couple strode past, each holding a cell phone on a stick, recording the action as they made their way through. They power-walked past everything like they had to be somewhere else that needed to be recorded.

Moments later, a young woman strolled through the crowd with her phone held out on a stick like she was toasting a marshmallow. She was missing out on the action but starring in her very own movie, Life’s a Peach.

I suppose I’d have done it myself back in the day if the technology were available.

I remember watching a gigantic harvest moon rise into a Yukon night. It happened in late August 1969, when I was nearing the end of my summer job with the White Pass Railway. Our work crew was returning to camp at the end of a long shift when, rounding a curve in the track, we saw a bright orange hot air balloon rise above the darkening firs. Everyone stared, open-mouthed, as this August moon rising more rapidly and spectacularly than I thought possible.

It was so gigantic and bright I remember thinking that if I looked closely enough I might see Neil Armstrong’s small step for a man, which he had taken only a month earlier.

I wished I’d had a camera. I could have posed with my open hand under the moon, like I was holding a basketball, the way Instagrams show some wag of a tourist pushing against the tower of Pisa or tweaking Abe Lincoln’s nose on Mt. Rushmore. I suppose we weren’t that clever back then. A simple shot of a giant moon as it rose to its place in the sky would have sufficed.

The first photograph ever taken, in 1826, contained no people at all—just some farm buildings and the sky. With an exposure time of four hours, you’d have to hang around for a while to make an impression. No wonder our ancestors in those early photographs stare at the camera like they’ve been injected with cement. Photo-bombing back then would take an hour or two.

It’s funny how even in photographs people seem to age. Their smiles sadden a little over time as though they’re already aware that one day they won’t look as they did in the photo and then some time after that wouldn’t be around at all.

The pictures release unsettling intimations of our mortality.

Another reason why we should experience life, not through a lens, but firsthand.

But whether we insta our lives forever on the go, or live in the moment and rely on our memories to call up the experience at a later time, we are, like the power-walkers with the selfie-stick, just passing through.

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