Albert Schweitzer, Edward Snowden, Siri, Joseph Long.

One of the gifts I have offered the world aggressively the last couple years is that of volunteering to take pictures of of strangers trying to take pictures of themselves; thus rescuing them from the forgettable (though sometimes iconic) selfie that usually possesses the lifespan of an ill-healthed aphid.

My offer to transform a selfie into portrait is accepted somewhere between seventy-six and seventy-seven percent of the time, although that's just a guess, and people are generally appreciative, and I'm happy because I have new friends that I may never see again, and similar to space travel, it is a tiny step I can take for the advancement of humankind and global peacenessish via intentionally ephemeral friendships. My main point here, however, is the new level of enjoyment I have found in recently tweaking this social endeavor:

In the past, I have been more clinical about taking a stranger's iPhone (or Galaxy, though it takes me ten minutes longer to navigate the controls on one) and stepping back a short distance very slowly, so they don't panic and think I'm going to scurry off with their mobile lifeline. I say some really insightful and witty remarks while snapping off a sequence of 6-10 shots, usually giving some slight direction, such as "let's try to find your jawline, sir," or "shall we tone down the Addams Family vibe?" or "could you all try looking just a little better?" or some other such helpfulness. I hold their precious phone like a surgeon eating really expensive breakfast cereal with a tiny spoon (I once saw an episode of, what's it called...Gray's 50 Shades Anatomy?, in which I learned how doctors should wash their hands before operating, and that in most successful hospitals the staff take turns dating one another. The point being that as I cradled their phone and carefully concentrated on composing a lasting digital impression, I was depriving them AND myself of something important:

I was depriving them, albeit for a minute or two, their virtual lifeline to the world. No stranger has ever handed me their phone and said "DON'T read my Tumblr notifications that might come up," or "DON'T answer the phone if it rings," or DON'T open any SnapChats ." It's something that I just erroneously assumed: I shouldn't read their notifications while their phone was in my possession.

But what if that's the wrong way to think about things? What if I Fosbury-flopped my thinking into respecting them enough to trust that they would proactively let me know if they don't trust me enough to read their notifications, when they've already trusted me enough to use it, knowing that I look like a speedy person and could easily outdistance twenty- to thirty percent of them in a flat-out sprint for the last half of ten seconds if I wasn't trustworthy, so by the very fact that they've entrusted me with it, trusting their implicit trust in me enough to trust myself that I will make trustworthy decisions with handling important communications they might be receiving while their mobile phone is in my (at this point in our short relationship) trustworthy hands? Particularly if I read them notifications off their phone while I'm taking their pictures?

The Anecdote

So I decided to trust my faith in humanity and gut instinct and change my process. I was snapping some pics of a couple 20-somethings, one from Missouri, on their iPhone 6+, taking a quick skim through their camera roll and shaking my head at the atrocious front-camera selfies before I swooped in to save them, and a notification popped up.

Excuse me.
I said.
You've got a notification. Just a minute.

she said,
starting to walk towards me and her camera.

I held up my hand swiftly, commandingly, firmly; kindful, mindful authority of a caring friend evident on my face as I waved her back.

She stopped.

I got this.
I said, swiping through to the right app.

It looks like you've got...let's see. A Facebook friend request from Melvin Baylor.

I looked up.

The joy on her face was so profound she was unable to respond. I will forever carry that image with me as an affirmation of the importance of renegotiating social boundaries that often exist for no good reason, and the importance of helping change them.

So, I'll see you on the streets.
If you're lucky, I'll take your picture.
On your own camera.

I might even include a front camera selfie of me taking your picture. A little surprise to discover later. Because that's what friends do. They surprise each other in delightful little ways.

Even if we've only been friends for ninety seconds.

Good night, moon. Good night, friends.