Thanatopsis, Sept 30 2015

Death and dying happen. It has happened and it’s going to happen again, to me, to you, to everyone. This is something that I had been thinking about again recently as I was going through some photos but hadn’t really planned on writing about.

When I fly for work I tend to listen to audiobooks or podcasts instead of playing games or stuck with my eyes on a computer screen. It’s a great way to relax and let the tediousness and onerous nature of the trip melt away into the background and not hate flying so much. It was while I was listening to an episode from a podcast from WNYC Radiolab called “The Living Room” that I was first brought back to the these thoughts and the photos. By the way, it’s a great podcast and this episode was very moving. I’m sure the people around me on the plane seeing me wipe away my tears really had very little if any clue what was going on. I do wear over the ear headphones so it’s possible someone might have guessed I was listening to something. But still, a guy on a plane with his eyes closed and silent tears appearing at times is not a common sight.

Right on the heels of this podcast and as I’m still trying to process what I just heard rolled another one, called “Sight Unseen” (slight spoiler below). Two powerful and well done pieces that kept the tears and memories flowing. Many of radiolab’s podcasts do have people talking in them but usually they entail breaks and stories with the two hosts talking on and off. In these two episodes, the hosts were more on the sideline with others directly involved and, active in the story telling.

The first podcast had a slight voyeuristic feel but if you listen to it, you might be able to identify on some level with it. We all people watch. You can make an afternoon of it. In the podcast it was over years. And years not just spent as an objective viewer but someone that became emotionally attached to a situation they were divorced from. Maybe like someone you see at work often and only overhear their phone calls and that’s your only level of exposure over the years. You see this person grow and develop and catch this one-sided level of conversation. You can get invested in their plights and hardships. A real life realty show. The story has tragedy in it and not only did I feel compassion for the people that underwent it but also for the person that was the silent witness, divorced and powerless yet caught up in everything that happened.

The second podcast had to do with military photojournalism and the outcome of some photos for a story. As an amateur photographer I do enjoy sharing what I take and felt jealous in a way to not be taking the types of photos that this woman was. I also know I’m not that good at it which is why I don’t take the photos she takes. That’s not to say I won’t get better. Capturing people in a moment is something I haven’t really done much of because it felt voyeuristic but this podcast spun it in a way that hopefully will push me into that direction now that I can see a better way to to treat it with respect and integrity.

With that as the backdrop, on something of a whim I wanted to put together a photobook. Something simple and easy. You choose some pictures. You go online, arrange them, pay some money and presto, in the mail will come something for the coffee table that looks good and gets people to talk and ask questions. For the majority of the pages there are no descriptions. This was intentional. I want someone to not know what they are seeing. I want the questions. In hindsight or perhaps foresight, if I do another one or just expand on the one I did, I’ll probably put a page on the back of each photo or series of photos with a description and possible story since I’m not always around to answer the questions I want asked and once I’m gone, the story will otherwise be lost with me. I may not have a biological story to pass on but this could be an emotional one instead, and far less costly and less likely to keep you up worrying at night.

As I was going through my photos I started by putting all the photos into a new collection in lightroom and sorting through them, removing ones that just weren’t relevant or powerful enough for me and little by little parsing the number down to something more manageable. Of course in hindsight if I had just better organized them when I imported them, it would have saved me an incalculable amount of time.

It was when I was going through and reliving these moments in time that I came across the series around my father’s death. I still miss him. I still want to talk to him when I know I can’t. Ask those hindsight questions that I didn’t know I wanted to until I couldn’t. Movies, tv shows, and songs continue to impress upon us that we need to say what we want or need to because every moment could be the last. Even if we see it coming, we tell ourselves that someday I’ll get around to it. But as CCR said, “someday never comes.”

Mom is still around and I’m trying to do better this time. I try and call more. I want to go home more. It hard though. I know she’s getting older. She’s still dealing with his passing and I feel guilty for not being there more often. I feel torn not wanting her to get older, nor sicker nor different from the person I remember. In the second podcast, some of the siblings don’t want to see the photos of what transpired. They want to remember their brother as he was. I get it. They are dealing with something that has happened and can’t be changed and may disturb how they view the world. I have the chance now and hope I have the strength and courage to do something about my relationships. I still feel that at my core I am mostly someone that looks ahead and pushes forward. When I face life, I might not always like what I see but I’m also less likely to be blindsided by what comes. I know I don’t want the same feelings when my dad died that I didn’t ask questions or find out about whatever I might want to know about my mom, her life, or I don’t know. No matter what though, I still have to face and deal with the knowledge that she will also die. Not pass, not move on or whatever I might want to sugar the idea with. I’m also struggling with the idea that I don’t want to grieve about it when it happens. I want to feel happiness for her life and that she had closure and not issues. It is a bit of selfishness to be angry that the person is gone. We mourn more than celebrate the death of a loved one. So in these thoughts and rolling memories, I’m trying to think of the good things I know and hope to know. That for almost my entire life I could count on one hand the number of times she wasn’t smiling. I can celebrate that she has learned to trust in herself and hopefully come to recognize what her children already knew, that she is a smart and capable woman that has pushed through something tough and come out stronger. Just more positive to come from her life to share with her children.

As age and health issues creep in and affect the quality of my life I hope to be able to face it with the same smile and passion for living… for being alive. I’m trying to now. I’m trying to live and be a part of life. The active participant to see and explore, not necessarily just going places but wanting to keep my mind and body sharper, to keep an open and flexible view of the world. And someday I will face a time when I shall also die. I hope to have passed on something to the world (I’d take one person also) in my own way. Something for the better at least.

-SFA

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