The Beauty of Different

A belated Merry Christmas to you! I hope it was everything you hoped for and more.

I found a wonderful quote in one of my gifts, The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit, a rich book by Karen Walrond, filled with macro photographs of people.

Karen is a multi-talented wife, mother, lawyer, photographer and speaker, originally from Trinidad, now living in Houston, TX. She draws on her experience moving from an outsider trying to fit in to someone who is completely comfortable in her differentness to find kindred spirits. The Beauty of Different contains her interviews with these people to find out more about their journey of moving from feeling like a misfit to feeling perfectly imperfect.

The quote I found in her book starts this way:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience…

I had been out for a trail run at Arastradero Open Space Preserve. Cresting the single track on one hill put me at eye level with an oak tree on the next knoll. It looked short and gnarled against the smooth blue sky. On the face of it, a tree against the sky.

Lone Oak at Arastradero Open Space
Lone Oak at Arastradero Open Space

But my experience of this scene was much deeper.

The second part of the quote goes like this:

we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

I thought about all that oak tree had been through, to win the battle of the fittest to be the oak tree that grew on that hill, to bear the weight of the sky, to become that old, and to be a witness.  Editing the photo with these feelings in mind took the image in a very different direction.

Lone Oak
Standing the Tests of Time by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2013

The image is scratched, folded, and faded but memorialized. I wanted to share this version on Instagram but knew that the tags #trailrunning, #Arastradero, and #seenonmy run were not exactly true advertising. The latter image would more likely appeal to a different audience and one not so neatly categorized as “trail runners” and “nature lovers”.

I realized that the author of this quote, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, might be on to a way of explaining the difference between photographing for what we see and photographing for what we feel. A quick tour of Wikipedia taught me that Pierre was no slouch. He was a French Jesuit with an intellectual c.v. full of scientific firsts.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

So what was he going on about? Essentially, he believed that the ordinary secular work that we do, like photographing, blogging, and working, has lasting value and is part of the “divine milieu”.  He wrote The Divine Milieu to unpack this concept. While he finished the book in 1929, he was not allowed (by the Catholic church) to publish it, and indeed it wouldn’t be published until 1957, after his death.

Pierre was going against the grain with his thinking. You and I also go against the grain in our “work” whatever it is.  Karen writes it takes “courage to create one-of-a-kind art and put it out there, damn the reaction. Who wouldn’t be attracted to that kind of bravery?”

Both Karen Walrond and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin urge us the same: Become comfortable with the differentness in your work, your calling, your art. The reason it may not “fit” is quite possibly the very thing that makes it perfectly imperfect and you unique.


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