My publisher suggested adding photos to my soon-to-be-published book about grief, and I jumped at the chance. I’d recently read David Ebright’s YA novel Reckless Endeavor, and was impressed by how much veracity just a couple of photos gave his story, so I was glad of the opportunity to do the same for my book. The only problem is, I have almost no photos of me and my life mate. We simply did not take photos — not of the places we lived, and not of each other. It’s not that we weren’t visually inclined, it’s that we lived in the moment. If you take a photo of the moment, the shoot becomes the moment and you lose the moment itself.
A couple of years before he died, I was gifted with a digital camera, and I took hundreds of photos of trees, animal tracks, a cattle drive, some yaks in a nearby field, wildflowers (well, weeds) along the lane where I walked. It helped me get through what I thought were the worst years of my life, the years of his dying. Oddly, during all that time, I only took one photo of him, and that was by accident. We always wanted to see the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, but since the road leading to the canyon was gravel, it was too hard on our old cars. We promised each other that if we ever had the use of a rental car, we would take the trip. That August, I rented a car so I could visit my brother, and when I returned, I suggested we finally go see the north rim of the canyon. He didn’t want to make the trip since he was so sick, but at the last moment, he agreed to come with me. It’s a good memory. Just him and me and the ground that fell away just beyond our feet. I had my camera, and since I knew I’d never be back, I snapped a few photos, and he ended up being in one of those pictures. It still makes me cry, that photo. He’s standing with his back to me, staring at . . . eternity, perhaps. Did he know he had just a few more months to live? I sure didn’t, or perhaps I was simply refusing to face the truth.
The year after he died (which actually was the worst year of my life), I took thousands of photos. The world had turned black and white, and it was only through the lens of a camera that I could see color and life. I roamed the neighborhood and the nearby desert, looking for visual treasures.
And then suddenly, a few months ago, I stopped carrying my camera around. Apparently, despite my continued sadness, I’m back in the moment, living life at full strength rather than diluted through the lens of the camera. I didn’t even realize how far I’d come until I started hunting photos for my book and realized I’d stopped taking pictures.
(I did manage to scrounge a few photos for the book, though not as many as my publisher wanted. And we’ll be using the only photo of the two of us for the back cover even if it is fifteen years old.)