Opinions, Column

Surrendering to the Serendipitous: A Tribute to Life’s Little Things

I found a $400 camera in my backyard today. 

It wasn’t just any old camera. It was a Canon handheld, complete with a battery and memory card. The circumstances surrounding my discovery were rather innocuous: I happened to glimpse a brilliant sunset through my window and decided to watch it outside. I was bounding to my backyard when my foot grazed something hard and plastic, which turned out to be the object in question. 

Before you ask, no—I have not gone through the memory card to see what is inside. In fact, my parents insisted on leaving the camera in our backyard, concealed in an overturned vase, in case it happens to be spyware in disguise. While I do think this is a bit far-fetched, I have allowed the contents of the camera to remain a mystery for the time being, if only because its existence alone has given me much to think about.

How the camera ended up in my backyard is a mystery. It could have been tossed over my fence in a fit of temper or by accident. Maybe it was intentionally placed there by a mysterious figure. It could have been fought over, sorely missed, or gladly discarded. Regardless, it wound up in my hands on an ordinary Friday evening like a gift from the heavens, meant to serve as both the subject of my next column and as a personal omen.

But what omen is a forgotten camera supposed to bring? Something told me I would not find the answer in a divination almanac. I was supposed to make something of this. Yet, as I wracked my brain for every possible message this camera might symbolize—a sign of good luck, a reminder to unleash my creativity, or a tip to make photography a lucrative side hustle—I found myself dismissing each one for its implausibility. The more I reflected on it, the more frustrated I grew, fixated on my inability to find a lesson in this simple story. I feared the loss of my existential poeticism, and I suspected in dread that my once imaginative mind had aged beyond repair. But the true cause of my mental anguish? I could not divine a reason to explain the serendipitous event that had occurred.

Up until this point, I have lived life under the assumption that “things happen for a reason.” Whether I face tragedy or success, I have used this phrase to make sense of both the milestones and stepping stones of my life. It was during the camera incident, however, that I realized just how tightly I had clung to the idea that every event in my life must have a purpose—a deep, intricate reason for unfolding the way it did. 

My assumption about the meaningfulness of life’s individual details was challenged by the innocent appearance of a camera, and it was forced to buckle. 

It may seem like I am calling this camera ordinary and meaningless, but the truth is that it has served as a lesson in surrendering to the serendipitous. It is human nature to make meaning of the experiences that we undergo. It gives us some semblance of control in an otherwise tumultuous existence. But we mustn’t forget that one of life’s most quirky qualities is the inherent mystery of it all. We do not need the validation of a sign, symbol, miracle, or magic trick to convince us that we are on the right path. We can rest easy knowing that we live in a world where random, funny things happen for no reason at all. Where cameras can randomly land in your backyard as the result of some bizarre circumstance. Where existential college students can take inspiration from the most pedestrian of occurrences, and spin such cameras into columns. 

The great irony about my musings is that by writing about it, I have appeared to make some meaning from this event after all. The camera may have not served as an omen that I will become a world-famous photographer, but it inspired me nonetheless. It served as a vessel onto which I could project meaning—memorialized in the words of this piece.

If you have reached the end of your tolerance for all things meta, I completely understand. But if there is anything more tangible this column can offer, it is a PSA for anyone who happened to toss a camera in the middle of residential Brighton: Yes I have your camera, and I am more than happy to return it for my own peace of mind.

April 20, 2023