Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Photo Opp Leaves a Clear Image

Last week a psychic mudflow slowed me. It was a slog just getting upstairs to my study. Maybe it's a cold, I thought. I'll take a nap and drink steaming cups of Vitamin C in red hibiscus tea. I'll forsake my insistence on a daily walk and let lethargy govern my schedule.

I had no idea how much could be accomplished by letting momentum slide.
Spirited Elation 1998

With a cup of tea on a side table, I sat down with a box of photographs that I've successfully ignored for 10 or 12 years. It was a small box really--a shoe box of photos from the early 2000s--the final years that I carried rolls of film to a photo shop and ordered a stack of glossy prints. 

My mood and energy level were well matched for the task. I moved slowly, deliberately, and surprisingly, without a lot of emotion, into a plodding inventory of past travels, old friendships, and family holidays. It wasn't as hard as I'd imagined, letting go of duplicates and goofy grins. And I was in no hurry. I'd finished more than one cup of tea by the time I turned the final photo facedown on the discard pile that now held three-fourths of the original accumulation.

What stays with me at the end is much more than a sense of relief at tackling an onerous task. More satisfying even than the actual snapshots I placed in the "keeper" stack. What remains is a sense of unexpected joy at reconnecting with my own stories and history.

There's the 1998 shot of me, glowing with new author elation at a celebration for release of my first walking book, The Spirited Walker. In it I see so much hope and expectancy. An embrace of risks and possibilities. 

Hair by Chemo
Then comes the jolt of life's reversals in a photo of me two years later, wrapped in the arms of Nina, a warm and gentle yoga instructor who helped stabilize me on the tightrope of breast cancer treatment and uncertainty. That's a photo with holding power. 

And I love the  flat-out silliness that in a photo of my mother, age 90-something, seated with friends at a festive Christmas table in our home. Five grown people holding tissue-wrapped combs to their lips and humming comb carols. What on earth prompted this behavior? I'm smiling even now in happy reconnection with a day and a spirit of playfulness that I can't even remember. How could I throw that one out?

Brash optimism leaps from photos from New Year's Eve of Y2K--the year we'd been warned that the digital world as we knew it might collapse with a computer glitch. In this shot, we've donned broad smiles and outlandish Y2K hats in celebration of life after midnight. Happy to be with a group of friends. Happy to face a new year. 

The pile in the 'save' box is smaller now. There's space for photos I'll cull some slow day  from a larger, older box of snapshots in an upstairs closet. I'm not dreading it as much as when I started. This process of gentle letting go seems to have left me with more than it took away. There's something satisfying to be said for a day of moving slower than mud. 

Soon you'll be able to read my monthly "Not the Retiring Type" newspaper column here, on www.spiritedwalker.com. I've updated the website and am adding an  archive that will eventually contain all columns published in the past year by The Register-Guard. 


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