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Madeleine and life:

a love story

Madeleine Reinhard

I love big cities and flights to faraway locations and midnight walks and festive dinners and epic adventures that last all night long. I crave excitement and stimulation. The big moments. These moments don’t come very often, and during Covid, they don’t come at all. 


But what has managed to get me through the pandemic, the lack of big moments, at least somewhat, is photography. 


I picked up photography a few years back. I’m not saying I’m all that good at it, but whether it’s a proper camera or even just my phone, I’ve started taking a lot more pictures (enough to necessitate upgrading my phone storage). 


When I first took a photography class junior year of high school, we had weekly assignments focused on different photography styles. While I had no trouble shooting landscapes and portraits, close-ups required more effort. Especially on cold winter days when I didn’t want to wander far to go shoot, finding photo opportunities was not easy.


In search of the perfect shot, I had to look more closely at the seemingly boring, but actually intricately beautiful, details all around me. I discovered, “That exit sign actually had a pretty cool reflection,” or, “The silhouette of this dead tree is strangely gorgeous.”

Simply put, these assignments forced me to relook at life. I began to see beautiful little details all around me. (Recall that scene from The Office when Jim and Pam take mental pictures–*click*–on their wedding day, per Pam’s mom’s suggestion, because the day goes by quickly, and they will “want to remember the high points.”) 


Soon, I came to see how this logic applies to life itself, the unphotographable tiny moments that make up our days. 

The smell of a fresh pot of chamomile tea, the wagging tail of my dog when I pull out a leash, the way that midnight rain catches light from a lamppost, the sound of the ocean waves crashing against the jetties, and even small acts of kindness from strangers or friends. I fell in love with life. To clarify, I am not always in love with my life. I’ve been sad and anxious and angry, just like everyone else. However, I am in love with life itself. I understand and see the beauty in the world around me, from honey bees on daisies to the stars in the sky on a summer night.


As I expanded this practice to more and more things, I fell further in love with life. I found beauty in anything and everything, whether watching a glitzy Broadway show in New York City or picking up the mail on a gloomy winter day. 


However, since Covid began, and especially since I got to Duke, there are no more Broadway-type beauties. In fact, the little beauties (i.e. passing familiar and unfamiliar faces in the BC basement as I pick up my mail) are all I have, and seeking them out proves quite difficult when there is no alternative. 


In the absence of the “play hard” part of “work hard, play hard” that Duke is apparently known for, I struggled to regain my enamorment with the smaller moments. Especially as the weather got colder, I was in my room 24/7, whether in virtual classes or eating meals alone. 


A part of me fell out of love with life. My daily gratitude journal, which had been filled with accounts of fun moments and true daily highlights, had turned into an objective recount of my days:

January 31, 2021: went to bed super early


February 6, 2021: played piano 


I couldn’t say exactly how I came to this realization, but I began to consider that sometimes, finding beauty takes a little bit more effort, but most assuredly, it is always there. I realized that while Covid may have taken away basketball games, nights out, and even sitting in someone’s room with more than two friends, that’s not life. That’s just a few scattered moments. 


Call it, five out of the 168 hours in a week. So, what are the other 163 hours? What’s left? 


Well, I believe that what’s left is life. It is the multitude of smaller moments, the minute and otherwise unnoticed parts of our days, that comprise our lives, not the occasional concert or party. And as I’ve said, life is beautiful. 


The intricate detailing on the West Campus buildings, the sunset reflecting on the glass of WU, the blooming Cherry Blossom Trees outside my dorm. The sound of the Chapel bells every evening, the (sometimes annoying) lawn mower every morning that reminds me it’s spring, impromptu concerts on the quad. Casual activities with friends, whether morning trips to Monuts or picnics on the Chapel lawn or walks around Duke Pond. 


When life seems otherwise dull and unexciting, finding this beauty is no small feat. It takes effort, even the conscious racking of my brain to find three things to write in my daily gratitude journal. But when we find this beauty, we allow ourselves to more fully enjoy the world in which we live. 

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