I don’t give much advice because I just barely manage my own life. And, I receive tremendous help from friends and family and the Divine. But, I’d just like to offer one piece of advice that I feel is universal: take photos with the ones you love the most. Even if you never hire a photographer, if you’ve got a smart phone, you’ve got a camera at your fingertips most of the time. You don’t have to identify as a “photographer.” you don’t have to copy the composition you find on Pinterest. You don’t need to weigh a certain amount before you’re “photo-ready.” You don’t need to wear what’s found in this season’s look book. I will say that some lipstick will work wonders (if that’s your thing), but honestly, these elements are all secondary to the raw emotion that a portrait of a loved one evokes.
Nothing we see here is permanent. There’s this term I heard from Jack Kornfield a number of years ago about embracing the full stream of life. As it turns out, life and death are just not that far apart. Something I’ve noticed through the years is that when I photograph newborns, I feel about as close as I ever have to the Spirit within each of us that I have come to call God. There’s a fresh luminosity and a palpable sense of the Sacred.
These are my friends, Leah and Jon. We thought these might be his last photos, but he’s since been moved from hospice to palliative care - a true miracle. I spent an hour with them and truly didn’t know what to expect because it had been almost a year since I’d seen him. The previous time he could barely speak, and I remember telling him, “Jon, I’m going to go now, and you don’t have to respond, and I want you to know that when you’re ready, you can go, too…I love you.” And, he’d not acknowledged me at all until that point but still somehow choked out, “I love you.” I thought that might be the last time I’d see him because that’s what all the doctors said. As his mom says, we fight to get in this world, and we fight to get out. Here he is still defying all of the diagnoses and prognoses.
His mom gave me a homemade oat bar to eat on my way home. And I wondered how - with everything they’ve been through and continue to go through - their Presence filled me up so very much. When the film came back, I could actually see strange lights and auras that were not visible to my eye that day. If I think too much about it, I’ll think it’s impossible. But, everything about Jon’s resilience has seemed impossible. He is a breathing miracle with a smile that could change the world. That’s really the only reason I post these photos here. And to remind you that it doesn’t matter if you’ve not slept in a year or if your photo shoot occurs in a bed, in a room that you’ve lived your life for years, take more photos. His mom insisted that she take a photo of me with Jon, and I felt myself shrink for a moment because it was humid and my hair and I didn’t…and I said, “Yes, that is so thoughtful of you. Thank you” and I will cherish the photo for the rest of my days.
If I allow myself to absorb the moments in people’s lives - the highs and lows and the moments in between - I get to share, my heart swells with gratitude. “Honored” seems a strange word, but I do feel honored…and completely humbled at the same time. Here’s to the full stream of life.