It was during the week of the worst things, with civilians killed by policemen, policemen killed by snipers, and so much of it caught on film and rendered live on social media. Our phones have made us citizen journalists, and we’re capturing stories left and right. It is justice and darkness and light and failure all at once, all scrolling across our screens at a staggering pace. It is too much—all of it, too much.
After a dinner of hot dogs and chicken on the grill, we packed up our lawn chairs and sunglasses, and we walked a few blocks down the street for a city concert in the park. These happen every Thursday night. Everybody brings their kids and their yard blankets, their sippy cups and sunscreen and chilled beer, and it’s always the closest thing to a small town in our city of 96,000 people. We spread out on the giant field behind the post office, we let our kids play in the soccer field next door, and we sing cover songs by little known bands. Some of us dance like nobody’s watching, and the rest of us bask in the irony as we sit back and watch. Everybody finishes the night with more freckles.
I alternate between the dancing and the watching, but that night, I decided to stay seated and let it happen around me. I wasn’t in a dancing mood, because remember, it was the week of the worst things. My heart was heavy, my mind was distracted, and also it was crazy-stupid hot. So I sat back and let the singing and dancing unfold around me.
That’s when I saw them: a daddy dancing with his little girl. Silhouetted by the sun, he twirled her in her sundress, and she spun in his arms. She leaned back with total trust in the way little girls do before the world has taught them to keep one eye open and one foot on the ground. They were blissfully aware of only each other, the light of each other’s night. It was too beautiful to miss, their shining love and freedom and togetherness. I love to take pictures of beautiful things; sometimes I can’t help myself. So I grabbed my phone, and I snapped a picture of the dad and his little girl. I looked at it on my screen; it was indeed a photo of something beautiful.
I got up from my lawn chair, and I walked out to them on the sidewalk dance floor. I said, “Hello, sir? I’m sorry if this is strange, but I wanted to tell you that I just caught a beautiful picture of your moment dancing with your daughter. May I text this to you?”
I held up my phone to show him what I had captured, their silhouettes against the sunset, her hands in his, a moment on a July night that they’ll never have again. He said, “Oh, my God. You took that?”
It was awkward for just a moment while I waited to see if he was offended that I was watching, if he thought I was a freak show stalking his daughter, or if he might see that I was just someone who had seen undeniable beauty.
“Yes, sir. I’ll delete it, and the photo isn’t good enough to see your faces or to identify who you are—”
“I love this,” he said, lifting his daughter up to his hip, looking closer at the photo. “My goodness, thank you.” He gave me his ten digits, and I sent him the picture. He texted me several hours later, long after the concert and probably long after his dancing partner was tucked under her blankets for the night. “Thanks again,” he said.
I tapped back, “It was too beautiful to miss. Have a good night.”
He was so busy dancing, living an authentic moment with his little girl, instead of posing and posting. I got to be the stranger nearby who caught it all and gave it back to him, a random act of kindness to a stranger I’ll never see again. We are citizen journalists, capturing it all with our phones. In a world of selfies, sometimes we can turn the camera around and find magic.