simple gifts

The Shakers say it is a gift to be simple and a gift to be free. “Simple Gifts” is an old shaker song written in 1848 and it is one of my favorites. It is a song about simplicity, but it also says that “when we find ourselves in the place just right, we will be in the house of love and delight.” While the house of love and delight sounds like a cheesy, incense burning, hippy joint, the sentiment is what gets me. I like the idea that when we are true to ourselves we will find the simplicity of life which ultimately brings peace.

But it’s not always so such a simple gift. We are all given gifts to some degree. We are can run companies, we can cook amazing food, we can play an instrument, we can balance budgets, we grow a garden, we can teach someone to read, we can diagnosis symptoms, we can write, we can act, or we can see the world differently through the lens of a camera. We all have talents and gifts which should be a part of our everyday lives. The act of doing what you are good at, what you are talented in, is itself simplicity and freedom.

My cousin B. is an amazing photographer. She has an eye like no one I’ve seen. She loves taking pictures of things like rust and wood. She can take scenery and portraits, but these are not her specialty. Those shots are easy and generic, anyone can do them. The passion she sees through her lens are things we would easily pass over. B. hones in on the things that we feel corrode of corrupt surfaces. Somehow, B. finds the beauty in them and she shows rust and corrosion as art. And she does it so well.

She has never sold a photograph and has pretty much stopped taking pictures creatively when she left college. All because the cost of taking and developing pictures is too much for her budget. I’m saddened by this and I tell her often that she has to start taking pictures again, that she has to use her gift. It is a gift to be simple and a gift to be free and sometimes we have to fight to use those gifts. If our favorite writers and actors and doctors and teachers didn’t use their gifts, where would we be? How many times has your life been changed by someone else’s gift? I know that B. is scared and I understand it. Putting your creative self out for the world to reject is a terrifying thing. But that simple Shaker song says that “When true simplicity is gain'd, To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come round right” So bow and bend B., simply use your gift, you’ll turn round right.

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