I've been trying for the past three days to write something worth posting. I have a couple of half-finished posts in my drafts folder that I might go back and dust off at some point, but I can't push or pull them into anything satisfying. Maybe after they marinate for awhile...
(Wait, am I talking about blog posts or my life right now? Could be either, truthfully.)
The New Year rolled in with all the usual hope and promise, and I'm thrilled that it's finally here. I haven't even written the wrong year on a single thing yet, that's how psyched I am that 2015 is over. But 2016 brought with it new challenges, big questions, and a whole bunch of stuff I don't feel prepared to tackle quite yet. The sensation is not unlike how I used to feel when driving in the snow: the car would start to slide, a little light would blink on the dashboard, and I would take my foot off the gas, keep a light grip on the wheel and wait to see if the tires would catch and send me on my merry way or if I would go skidding off into the woods and a hell of a bad morning.
"Lord, please--let the tires catch," became my prayer.
Yesterday I found myself with a few unscheduled hours and a sunny day in which to enjoy them. I tried to go to an MLK, Jr. Day parade but couldn't find parking in time, so I meandered my way through downtown and in the general direction of the restaurant where I planned to have lunch. The neighborhoods in that part of town have changed so much in the ten years I've been away, but as I drove down one particular street, I started to recognize a few things and realized my angel was nearby. It felt kind of like when the Pevensie children reencounter the lamp-post at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--the pull of the once-familiar as it beckons them away from the excitement and adventure of Narnia, back to the wardrobe in the empty room where they started.
I almost passed the Jewish cemetery where she is, but I recognized it at just the right moment. I made the block in a neighborhood of tight, one-way streets and parked in front of someone's house. Camera in hand, I walked across to the gate, only to discover it was locked. All of the gates were locked and a chain-link fence ran along the end of the property. The last time I visited her, I was able to pull my car right in between the rows of headstones. This time I would have to work around a lot more obstacles.
Cemeteries have never frightened me; in fact, I find them calming. In a terrible moment almost exactly a year ago, when the pain of loss and uncertainty threatened to pull me under completely, I drove past churches and coffee shops and other places that might have offered comfort and ended up in a tiny cemetery by the side of the road somewhere near the New York/Connecticut border. Sitting among the headstones, wrapped in one of the blankets I had in my car from a photography session, sobbing and screaming at God, I was finally able to cry it all out and start to breathe again. There's something about being in the midst of the dead that makes life--no matter how painful, tragic, boring, or dull--shine so much brighter.
When my oldest daughter was an infant sixteen years ago, I bought a Canon Rebel 35mm film camera at Target with some of the gift cards we got as baby gifts. My reasoning was that all the long-distance grandparents would appreciate good pictures as she grew. (They did.) But as I took more and more photos of my baby, my photography skills improved and my curiosity grew, and before long, I was branching out and trying new things.
I don't remember the first time I drove past the cemetery angel. I do remember thinking she looked lonely in her vigil, beautiful in a way that kept her in my mind and made me seek her out sometimes when I needed to feel like someone saw me, took in both the good and bad parts of my life, and wanted to hand me a rose to make it better. One foggy day I loaded up the camera with B&W film, drove to the cemetery, and, with my heart beating a mile a minute, I left the baby asleep in her car seat and used up an entire roll of film on my angel. I didn't have anything other than a kit lens, and the film I used came from a big box store--nothing special. But I tried to capture whatever quality she had that made such an impression on me.
With a little help from a printing business in town, I had a couple of the images cropped and printed, and then I put them in frames that probably came from Walmart. Two of them still hang on the wall in my dining room. They've moved with me from city to suburb and state to state, and I always hang them in high-traffic areas of my home. Not because they are great images--they are not--but because of what they represent: the choice to accept the inconvenience of loading up the baby and driving across town, the choice to set aside any nerves about bothering someone by being in the cemetery, and later the choice to invest in the cost of having the images printed and putting them up on the wall (which wasn't inconsiderable when taken as a percentage of the monthly budget at that point). I chose to try to create something beautiful, to attempt to translate what resonated with me into something that might resonate with someone else, and in reaching for my camera that day, I made a choice about who I wanted to be.
It was my first step toward becoming someone who can accept the risk of trying to take a story or image from my interior life and bring it out into the world, where others are free to praise or tear it apart. Someone who knows there might be gates and fences to work around and drafts that won't come together easily, but who chooses to start a new post while the others marinate. Someone who is never satisfied to simply consume the beauty of the world but feels compelled to try to show it to someone else. Someone who will let her heart break in a cemetery among the dead, accept the solace and taunt of the headstones reminding her that none of this lasts forever, and then go back out into the world to love people in the best ways she knows how.
Here's hoping 2016 is the year the tires finally catch and things stop sliding off the road in the direction of the woods. Being reunited with my angel feels like a good sign.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.