I was sitting in a café with my friend David when he said, ‘There’s something to look at behind you.’
I glanced across, trying not to be obvious. All I saw was an old woman eating her soup. David leaned forward. ‘She’s like a Rembrandt.’
I looked again and noticed her intent concentration. She was very old, her body shrunk to a few feet, and every movement was a painful effort. Slowly, very slowly, she raised her spoon from her bowl to her mouth. And slowly she lowered it again. Her face was creased into a web of lines, as if her skin was fracturing and these lines, held together only by the power of her will, were all that bound her flesh. Her eyes gazed at the bowl and her attention focused the room. In the weakness of her body all that existed for her was this moment and the act of eating. Her clothes were plain and black, and outlined her against the bare wall. The light around her seemed to hover, fixing and framing her image.
‘I wish I had a camera,’ I said.
‘No,’ said David. ‘It’s perfect as it is. You don’t have to make a picture out of it.’
I looked again and saw David was right. Her face, her concentration, and the aching slowness of her movements were all perfect. She was like a Rembrandt painting, and her image embodied, in its way, their grace and stillness. But Rembrandt was simply a guide to this instant, this glimpse of a woman’s dignity in the face of her body’s decay and the palpable approach of death. This moment of quiet grace was the product of her presence and David’s appreciative gaze, through which its beauty had been disclosed.
If I had sat alone in the café I probably wouldn’t have noticed the woman at all. David showed me how to look, and most importantly he showed me that it is a mistake to appropriate such a moment. To see how extraordinary, unique and beautiful is each moment of our lives we need to let go of the grasping mind and experience them fully, with mindfulness.