Today was one of the peak bloom days for the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC. For those of you who don’t know, this is an annual spring festival celebrating Japan’s gift of several thousand cherry blossom trees to the United States in the early 1900s. These trees now line the Tidal Basin and for about one week a year they reach peak bloom and several hundred thousand people flock to see them.
Being a short metro ride away, I always go see these beautiful trees when peak bloom time comes and I’m happy to report that they were not knocked away by rain this time around… That being said, the weather was utterly fantastic with just some wisps of clouds in the sky and 70 degree weather, so you may be able to guess what that means… Hundreds. Of thousands. Of people. All through the morning, train after train of countless numbers of people. I was smart enough to drag myself out of bed at 7am to at least get a seat on an early metro, but even at 8:30am, pulling into DC was *very* crowded. Now beyond the sheer madness of trying to navigate around so many people, all trying to get the perfect photo and all wanting to be in the heart of all the events, I noticed two things.
First, the number of vendors. Every time the path through the cherry blossoms got remotely close to a street, parking lot, or alcove not nearly big enough for a tent but damned if they wouldn’t try, there was tent after tent, stand after stand of stuff. On one hand, there was food, and I suppose people want to eat here, but why they didn’t pack a nice healthy option rather than pay for horrifyingly overpriced junk is beyond me. But beyond that, there were vendors of just… stuff. As someone currently acutely aware of the “stuff” I’ve accumulated and my quest to get rid of it, I noticed just how many of the things they were selling fit right in with my trash or donation piles. Do you *really* need that cherry blossom luggage tag? Or a T-Shirt that you can’t try on and probably won’t fit right? And these tents were packed!
It’s like the mindset is just– quick buy something so you don’t forget this magical trip! The only way to keep these memories is to buy a snow globe! A magnet! A lapel pin! And a tote bag to put in all in!
And this brings me to the my second observation…
People were barely taking time to just appreciate the actual cherry blossoms. Here were these thousands of trees, each blooming with hundreds of perfect soft pink fireworks–but everyone was too busy trying to get selfies and buy collectibles and souvenirs to notice! The pace of people walking around the Tidal Basin was astonishing, and the number of people with their eyes glued to their cameras and phones the entire time was mind-boggling.
Obviously I like taking photos, it’s a nice, artistic, and fairly inexpensive hobby if you’ve got a decent camera on your phone, but here’s the thing– you take time to take your photos, then you enjoy the moment. These people were viewing the cherry blossoms through a lens, as an outside viewer… like they weren’t even really there. Rushed to get the perfect shot, few people would stop to sit down and just observe, or at least put the cameras away and actually touch and get up close to a tree.
No! You’re part of the experience! You don’t need a knickknack to remind you! Sure, take some beautiful pictures, but for the most part just enjoy what’s around you. I think that’s one of the big things I’m learning, we’re so eager to rush through things–to get what we need and then be done. Fast food, collectibles, a decent selfie, and there’s your memory. No. That’s so wrong and twisted. In anything you do, take a moment–hopefully longer and just stop and observe. Maybe other people, maybe nature, hopefully a little bit of both. That’s your experience, those are your memories, viewing the world through a lens only gives you hollow feelings. Sure, you were there, but were you really there? So please, no matter what you’re doing with your life, always remember to just take a moment to observe.