Good-looking wife sees beyond the fleeting to the eternal

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 11, 2016

Beyond the visible… 'What is seen is transitory; what is unseen, eternal.' —St. Paul

Mary Anna Harbeck was disappointed when fog obscured the red-rock spires of Bryce Canyon she’d waited so long and come so far to see, but she took a photo anyhow and taught her writer/photographer husband an important lesson about the beauty of life beyond the visible.
Photo-poster by Mary Anna Harbeck

To celebrate my wife’s upcoming 75th birthday, I’d like to revisit another example of how she’s so good-looking. This isn’t about her photographer’s keen eye for herons and hawks, however (last week’s column), but about seeing beyond the fleeting to the eternal.

All her life, Mary Anna had longed to see the canyon country of the American Southwest, but she’d never had a chance.

So, when her sister emailed her from Edmonton four years ago and suggested Mary Anna join her on a rushed car trip to Phoenix with brief visits to Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks, she jumped at the chance.

Their first stop was Bryce Canyon, legendary for its towering red-rock spires aflame in the morning sun.

It was there that Mary Anna took a photo that has left me in awe, a photo which at first she considered a symbol of her disappointment – but she took it anyhow.

They overnighted in a motel not far from a popular viewpoint. Unfortunately, all those magnificently etched hoodoos she’d expected to see that much-anticipated morning were veiled in fog. The most she could hope to capture on her pocket camera were some nearby formations. I spoke with her by phone that evening, and she was clearly disheartened.

Upon her return home, we downloaded her photos to the computer and enlarged a few, including the one in the fog at Bryce Canyon.

We stared at it and quickly realized there was a lot more there than first met her eyes. To me, this was one of the finest photos she’d ever taken, and it began teaching me three very important lessons about life.

The first lesson was obvious. You don’t have to have great cameras to take great photos. My big, heavy professional camera was relaxing at home with me, while her purse-friendly camera was busy doing what all cameras should be doing: taking great photos.

As the late NDP leader Jack Layton once said: “You can wait forever for perfect conditions” – and equipment – “or you can make the best of what you’ve got now.”

Which brings me to the second lesson. When conditions, people and events don’t match up with our expectations, enjoy them for what they are – anyhow! We might be surprised.

Mary Anna had come to Bryce Canyon expecting one kind of sunlit view, but not finding it, was sad. Accepting the fog-shrouded view for what it was, however, she took a photo anyhow, and only later saw its mysterious beauty for what it truly was.

The third lesson I’m learning from her photo quickly found its way into a poster Mary Anna and I designed and am running with this column.

Her image shows a journey over rough terrain into a subtly brighter, more-inviting mid-ground before we pass through a stone arch into the foggy unknown.

That’s like life’s greater journey. Others have told us of the beauty beyond the portal, but we cannot yet see it clearly ourselves. Informed by their witness, however, we are drawn by our own inner longing for the Light in the enduring spirit of faith, hope and love. We have an inkling that those things visible for now just might not compare with the unseen glory beyond.

Moved by that realization, we included on the poster a line from St. Paul: “What is seen is transitory; what is unseen, eternal.”

So thanks, Mary Anna, for these valuable lessons. Keep on looking good. And happy birthday!


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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