He had never liked having pictures of him taken. He prefered being the person behind the camera. Photography was his true passion. Since his father had given him a Polaroid camera for his eleventh birthday he could keep neither his hands nor his mind off it. Wherever he went his camera, ‘Flash’, went with him. Other children took teddy bears, toy cars or marbles with them. But he could not be parted from his beloved apparatus. Once he even stole his sister’s doll’s little bed and placed his camera inside it. But that had stayed a one-time thing since his sister had threatened to tell his friends that he enjoyed playing with doll beds. His sister had always been smart.
Watching people was one of his favorite activities. He often sat on a bench in the park and later in coffee-houses, just observing people and imagining what they were like, where they were going, what they did for life and much more. His mother had always admonished him never to judge a book by its cover, but since he did not know all the people around him he could only do exactly that. Sometimes he felt like intruding in people’s privacy by observing them so closely but in the end that was how he learned to read faces. He often witnessed others being unbelievably blind to the signs face and body displayed. There was so much to see, so much to learn. Soon he was able to tell the difference between liars and sincere people, between arrogant people and people who were merely afraid to get hurt. No mask, no show, however well put on, could deceive him.
In basketball there is a basic rule, which appears pretty simple but is quite hard to follow in the heat of a game: no body contact whatsoever is allowed. He managed to follow this rule not physically but psychologically and emotionally in the heat of life. In every situation he knew the right thing to say and to do. He never trod on anyone’s toes because he listened and observed well. It may not be right to compare life to a game, since losing a game is by far not as significant as losing one’s life. But no one can deny having thought of that same comparison at least once. The plain truth is too many people actually live as if they thought life was just a game.
The years came and went, he left high school and went to college. Everybody liked him. Nobody despised him but nobody really loved him either – apart from his family of course. The realization hit him on a sunny day in May when he was sitting on a bench in the park, observing his surroundings. There seemed to be couples everywhere. Up in the trees squirrels chased and teased each other like newly enamored while on the ground, beneath the trees and in the grass, numerous human victims of Cupid’s arrows could not keep their hands off their lovers.
He had never pondered how being in love must be. Photography and his camera were his lovers and up to this moment he had not terribly missed having a more than friendly relationship with someone. Suddenly he felt lonely. He was a modest young man but in this case there was no denying that he was simply too perfect emotionally. He did not intent to have enemies. It was much more comfortable to be on neutral ground than to deal with rivals and foes. But maybe the easiest way was not necessarily the best way.
Like many people too he decided to change and like many of his fellow determined he came to the conclusion that it was not so easy. He had not the slightest idea how to unlearn everything he knew about the human face and body language. Blindfolding himself could scarcely be the right as well as the only way to achieve his goal. While his friends used their free time to meet, to lie on the sofa and read books, to write or to paint he spent hours trying to find a solution to his problem. His situation reminded him of his times in high school. In PE their teacher forced them to do apparatus work. He despised it and always envied pupils of other teachers, who played football or other enjoyable games. There was one horizontal bar exercise which he found impossible to perform – the circle. There were those of his classmates who did not even try to do an exercise properly once they figured no ordinary mortal could possibly do what they were expected to do. But he had never been one of them. He knew their teacher would not ask anything of them he didn’t believed they were capable of. So he tried, he tried really hard. But he had trouble with his coordination. Maybe it would have been easier if he had tried somersaults before. The fact that during the exercise he would carry out a 360° rotation backwards, lengthwise and around the high bar confused him. He had never before conducted such a movement. That seemed ridiculous and irritated him. But the harder he tried the worse were his attempts.
Thinking of a way to avoid reading people’s faces and body language appeared to be similar only now he could not even be certain that what he asked of himself was possible. Still he tried, he tried so very hard. But the result were headaches, disappointment, growing loneliness and as a consequence of those a perpetual bad mood. Slowly he forgot to look only at the world around him, which led to him being observed by her.
She came to the park regularly to read, to study or just to look at her surroundings and the people around her. One day she noticed him sitting on a bench, staring perseveringly at the gravel path in front of him. He just sat there for hours and hours. She had come to the park after him and left before him. Week after week she saw him sitting on the exact same bench looking on the ground as if it was the most complicated riddle in the world and he was trying to solve it. That made her curious. She decided to ask him what he what he was preoccupied with.
At first he was not sure if he should tell her about his situation but then again he could not think of any reason why he should not. So he told her his story and she listened. They sat on the bench for hours but that did not bother them. He felt oddly relieved to share his thoughts with somebody and she appeared to be honestly interested. When he had finished she seemed to consider everything he said. For a minute they just sat at the bench without a word spoken. And then she started to talk. She gave the impression of being amazingly wise for her age and every word that left her beautiful mouth seemed perfectly sincere and well considered. For the first time since he started to read people’s faces he was too fascinated to think of doing what he always did or to concentrate on not doing it. He just listened and it was not until she had finished that he realized he had achieved what he had tried so desperately.
She had not only helped him, but she also taught him what it was to love and to be loved. Other people taught him what it was to be liked as well as disliked, to have friends as well as people who did not want to be around him. He did not always say and do the things that seemed right to make others happy, but what he wanted and what he found accurate. He learned to have a mind of his own.
She bore him two beautiful children and though he still did not adore having pictures taken of him he endured it whenever a family picture was being taken. Looking at a recent picture of him, his son and his daughter he realized that they had not only inherited his looks but, judging from their facial expression, also his skepticism when it came to having pictures taken of them. He had to laugh.