Introspection, guided by ethics, can provide fodder for mental growth
In the mid-1970s, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was living in New York. I had a Minolta Autocord CDS and often used to walk around seeing if there was anything worthwhile to photograph. One fine Saturday morning in the summer I was in East Midtown. Walking eastward along a relatively quiet E 49th Street I came upon two mature ladies carrying items from their townhouse to the rear of an open station wagon. Although I had known that she lived on E 49th Street, actually running into Katharine Hepburn had been the farthest thing from my mind that pleasant morning. But there she was with her maid, loading her car for the trip to her country home in Connecticut. When Miss Hepburn saw me pointing my camera at her she asked me to please not take any pictures. I retained my pleasant smile and continued to prepare to take a picture as if nothing had been said. At that, both Katharine and her maid turned their backs toward me and proceeded to load the rear of the wagon. I obtained a picture of the back of a celebrity from head to waist and proceeded along E 49th Street feeling silently smug about my ‘accomplishment’. (After all, I had not been rude or aggressive.)
At the time, I paid no heed to her ‘foolish’ request. Her vulnerability was, for me, simply ‘opportunity’, and the fact that I had been raised by parents who instilled into me the necessity to be civil and respectful to all was ‘confirmed’ by my unwavering, kind smile towards those two innocents. After all, my proper Connecticut upbringing proved and guaranteed that I could not possibly err with my quest. Time modified that feeling of self-vindication and righteousness.
I never forgave myself for that indiscretion primarily because, at that instant of opportunity, I had refused to look at that person as a person, and, instead, because of my obsession with capturing something that I could brag about, conveniently perceived her solely as an icon, a statuette, without meaningful feelings. She was ‘separate’ from mere mortals. However, her manifest vulnerability, evinced and confirmed by her politeness and civility, stuck with me and she did end up helping me in life by continually ‘reminding’ me that we are all, in the end, flesh and blood, with weaknesses and strengths that waver within seemingly minor circumstances. She had ‘come down’ to my level and I ignorantly ignored her entreaty.
I hope to say that, at almost 63, I have by now distanced myself from such self-centeredness, but any confidence in this regard will continue to be cautiously monitored by a mind that has wisely grown with cynical life experience. I had thought that celebrities were ‘there for the taking’ because they were powerful, influential, and invulnerable. But that day I ended up re-examining my very honesty and consideration for others and came to the striking conclusion that I had clearly abused my power and had hurt someone for no necessary cause. I emphasize that I was shocked to discover that I did, indeed, have power over Miss Hepburn that day and that discovery was not pleasant. Thus, I ended up, with time, not feeling superior over that misinterpreted conquest. Even though she lived for another thirty years I never found the time to write a redaction of that episode to her.
My ‘honestly and consideration for others’ I discovered was but a sublimating truism that I had talked myself into in order to ‘cover’ for my fallible traits and, uncloaked, revealed but a crass conduit for getting what I wanted, without the discomfort or messiness of having to demonstrate ostensible guilt. If there is one thing that I wish to impart to readers it is this: Never become over-confident with your innocence and rectitude because those noble traits just might turn out to be more feigned than fact. Monitor yourselves continually. – David Lyga