Finding “Me” in a Photo

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I have always been fascinated with photography. 

Oh, not in a way that I ever wanted to pursue any sort of career with it.  No, I’ll gladly leave that pursuit to my very talented brother and sister-in-law who have spent decades mastering not only a variety of camera lens and filters to achieve a perfect shot, but also possess a level of chill and patience in waiting for that perfect image, that frankly God didn’t gift to me.

But thanks to some creative folks at Apple, photography novices, like me, can be pretty successful with an I-Phone.  Point, click, edit a bit and post.  Yep, that suits my purposes just fine.   Because photography for me is strictly about appreciating photographic images for their ability to capture a moment that at once appears stagnant, but who’s meaning is a free-flowing, ever-changing story.  A story that can evoke all sorts of emotions in humanity, and can sometimes be powerful enough to change the course of minds, even history.   Including my own.

I’m going to tell you a story of one such photographic image.  It’s an image I took in 2017 on a lonely stretch of beach in Santa Cruz, California called, “Natural Bridges.”     

It was February and my husband and I had taken a drive up to Santa Cruz to spend the week-end with our oldest son. It had been nine months since my bi-lateral mastectomy for breast cancer, two months since I had completed radiation, ten days since I had surgery to control uterine bleeding and one month before my world would once again be turned on its’ end with five consecutive major surgeries having everything to do with my survival,  yet little or nothing to do with breast cancer.     It was a pretty scary time. 

But on this day, I was feeling happy.  The rain had been pretty fierce the day before, but today the sun peaked through the clouds in fits and starts.  Drizzling one moment and then seeming to lift so that the gulls and other sea birds could forage in the surf crashing on the rocks of the beach below.  My son thought it would be fun to show us his favorite spots around Santa Cruz and it was pretty spectacular, despite the drizzle.  Everywhere I looked, the light seemed to change from greys to reds to pink to yellows and back to grey.  Through my phone camera I just couldn’t get enough of the scenery.  It was as if every shot spoke to me somehow.

Our son told us about this special place where the water had worn a hole through a rock outcropping called “Natural Bridges.”  

“Mom, it’s pretty darn cool, a natural bridge, you just have to see this!”, he said.  

To view the bridge, we had a short drive, and then were going to have to walk a little bit through some brush and pretty deep sand and make our way to the floor of the beach below.  It was low tide, so access wasn’t an issue, but my husband and son were  worried the trek down to the shore might be a little much for me, given I was still recovering from surgery.   Maybe so, but I knew my boy and if he said something was special, it was special, and not to be missed.  So without another thought I said I’d be fine and off we went.

And I was fine.  I was totally fine…physically.  But emotionally was something else.

As I picked my way through the brush and sand, I could see this amazing rock outcropping in the distance about 300 yards off shore.    It was about the size of a football field and rose several hundred feet into the air.  Birds of all sorts were perched atop its’ smooth surface, almost like a football team lining up for the kick off.   The ocean was lapping against it’s surface, swirling and whirling, forming foamy bubbles that took on the hues of the changing sky. 

About three-quarters of the way through the outcropping an arched shaped hole had been worn through the rock by the water and the ocean was flowing in and out of it.   It reminded me of the natural bridges I had seen in Lake Powell, Arizona or a kind of imperfect Arc de Triomphe, that is,  if water were to flow through it.   

It was like someone just plopped a bridge in the middle of the sea with this really cool water feature.    

Excited, I picked up the pace and forgetting my recent surgery, I ran down a steep incline of sand so that I could take pictures.   Reaching into my pocket for my phone camera, I looked up and then I froze.

The rock was huge this close up.  Huge.  But all I could see was the hole in its’ center. 

A giant gaping hole! 

The hole, that reminded me of my mastectomy!   The hole, that reminded me of the pain of finding out I had breast cancer!  The hole, that reminded me of the pain of telling my family and friends I had cancer!  The hole, that reminded me of the pain of having to leave a job I loved because of cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain, both physical and emotional, that I tried so very hard to hide from everyone before, during and after my cancer surgeries and treatment.  

The hole, that reminded me that cancer took a piece of me.  Left a hole, where now I had some silicone, some fake body parts that for all outward appearances made me look normal, but would never be the real me. 

My new normal was a hole.  Just like the one I was staring at in that rock outcropping and it frightened me. 

Here I was this sturdy rock of positivity for my family and everyone around me and I had a hole in me…a big, ugly, negative hole that no amount of plastic surgery, no amount of anything could fill up.     

I felt empty.  I grieved. 

“Mom, come look at the driftwood over here,” my son said.  

“Just a second,” I replied, and raised my phone.  I pushed the button for the camera and aimed the lens at the rock outcropping. 

Once…Click.  Twice…Click! Three times…Click!

Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…

With each click, I could feel the grief rolling through me. 

In and Out!

In and Out!

In and Out!

Just like the ocean rushing in and out through the hole in that rock.

I’m not sure how many pictures I would have taken of the “Natural Bridge” if my phone battery hadn’t chosen that moment to die. I’d like to think it was God’s divine intervention, but whomever or whatever forces were at work in that moment, a dead battery was enough to snap me out of my grief and go in search of my son and the drift wood.

And except for that one, brief, moment in time at the “Natural Bridge”, everything else about that week-end was amazing and upon returning home, I was anxious to make a photo collage so that I could post to my personal Facebook page a memory of our trip for my husband and for our family and friends to see.   

The shot of the rock outcropping, (there were over 40 photos on my phone of that hole in the rock to choose from), was hard to include.  To look at it made me sad, uncomfortable, and lonely for the me that used to be.  But I put those feelings away and mindlessly popped the photo into an insignificant square of the photo collage, no more powerful or important than any other memory of that trip.

And there that photo stayed until a few weeks ago.

I was looking through my on-line photo albums in search of photos of the ocean I could use for my daily Instagram and there it was, sitting there in cyber space, waiting for me, in all of its “holy” glory.  That “Natural Bridge” in Santa Cruz where I came face to face with all that I had lost, with the hole in my person. 

I expected to feel a rush of negative emotions looking at that photo.  But they didn’t come.   In fact, when I looked at that rock, at the hole in it, at the ocean rushing in and out of it, I felt…well, I guess you could say, I felt happy.   It reminded me of a fun day with my son, but it also reminded me of how far I have come in the past couple of years.

The photos story had changed, because I had changed. 

I mentioned before that soon after our visit to Santa Cruz, I had several unplanned health setbacks.   Five major ones to be exact, with a myriad of other health issues as a result of those five surgeries.   While these setbacks were not pleasant, with each one I made it a point to be more open to the positive, to remember to focus on not what set me back, but what propelled me forward.  The more I did that, I seemed to grow stronger emotionally and fear less all that lay ahead of me.   

It was true that my body was broken, bruised, battered, my energy depleted.  But somehow, someway, no matter how many holes in my person, deep down I felt a burning light, a strength that I didn’t know was possible because time and again the blessings flowed to me, through me, no matter how large the hole in my body. 

In and Out.

In and Out.

In and Out.  

And the more I opened myself up to the possibilities of the “new me”, to the fact that I was always going to have some “holes” in my life,  the more positivity flowed into my darkest recesses, planting seeds of faith and hope and blessing.  

The most amazing thing is that many of these blessings have come from strangers. People I would never have met or opened up to, if not for the fact that I had cancer or any of the other health issues. My life is so much richer for each conversation and there is a gratitude in my heart that kindness is alive and well and abundant in the world.   Do not let anyone tell you different! 

It’s as if this hole in me has become a welcoming portal to all that is possible for my life and I want to shout from the roof tops, “I AM BLESSED!”  

The photo I took of the “Natural Bridge” in 2017 told a story of a woman who was uncertain of her future, feared her destiny and felt she had to battle her demons alone. 

This same photo, viewed in 2019, reveals the story of a woman who has accepted her vulnerability, embraced her imperfectness and is working to conquer her fears one day at a time with a whole lotta help from the world. 

It is now a photo that tells a story of me. 

PositivelyAnne 

I hope you like and follow me here and on Facebook.   I also have an Instagram where I post daily positivity boosts.  Together we can change the world, one positive step at a time!  God bless you all!

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Keep Dancing!

I wanted to be that joy, that hope, that moment in time when there was nothing I could not do…

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Photo: “Moe and Joe #5” by PositivelyAnne

A person who says it cannot be done, 
should not interrupt the one doing it.
-My Money. My Time

I was about five years old the first time I saw Ginger Rogers glide across the television screen into the arms of Fred Astaire (they are considered the most successful on-screen dance duo of all time and well worth checking out if you have never heard of them). The memory, some fifty years old, is still so vivid.  Me, lying prostrate on the living room floor wrapped in my trusty blanket; the grainy black and white images of a beautiful woman, in a feather dress, twirling and swirling and leaping across the television screen (as if she floated on air) as a man softly sings, “Heaven, I’m in Heaven…”.   I don’t remember anything else about it, except that my still forming brain knew I was witnessing something magical…something personal…something life changing.

I just want to dance!

I uttered those words to my mother not long after.  My mom found a beginning ballet class at our local park, so off I went: pink leotard, white tights and black ballet slippers and a zillion dreams of floating on air just like that beautiful lady on the television. The class was held in the gym and it must have looked ridiculous, to any adult in the room, to see this group of gangly little girls gathered around a waif on toe shoes under the canopy of a basketball hoop.  But I didn’t care.

I just wanted to dance!

My mom, always a stalwart supporter of my dreams, soon found a dance studio in our area and I dived in, not only ballet classes, but I took tap dance and later jazz and Hawaiian (hula).   I can only imagine the sacrifices my parents must have made in order to afford all of those lessons.

But I loved it.  I loved tap dance; the energy of it, and with my tap shoes (named “Moe” and “Joe”), I would practice for hours in our garage with the goal of beating Ann Millers’ tap record (again for you younger readers, she was a 1940’s actress and dancer famous for being able to exceed 500 taps per minute-also worth checking out if you want to see tap perfection).   I loved jazz dance and the challenge of mastering the unspoken rhythms between the notes.    I loved Hawaiian dance, hula.  The idea of telling a story with my body either in flowing, almost dream-like movements, or with just the simple volcanic explosion of my hips.

It made me feel beautiful, powerful, magical!  I just want to dance!

Now ballet was another story and I soon discovered what it means to love something when it doesn’t love you back.

In my cherub years, public park ballet classes were fun, joyful and basically all that was required of me was to try and make it from our house to the park gym without shredding my tights!  I was taller than most of the girls and already had some athletic ability so I caught on easy to the steps.   I also adored my instructor, a waif like, still teenager, who seemed to float on air, just like the lady I had seen on the television screen at home.

But once I got into a dance studio environment, ballet became a whole different beast.  While tap, jazz and hula dance were pretty much open to anyone willing to give it a go and learn the steps, ballet belonged to an elite group of girls: the pencil thin waifs and gossamer fairies with swan like necks, whose pristine footwork on spindly legs made one think of elfin creatures in magical forests and all things fragile.

I was anything but waif like, elfin, or fragile.

The good Lord gifted me with thighs that rival those meaty turkey legs you get at the summer fair. Powerful thighs that enabled me to leap with athletic prowess, but shook the floor when I landed.   And my neck…well, I guess the best adjectives to describe it are “squat, stubby, short.”  Not a hint of fragility or waif likeness there.

I was pretty much a gladiator in a tutu. Still am!  My ballet instructor let me know it:

“Your legs are so…so…well, top heavy dear!”  “You have turkey thighs!” “That neck, stocky like a pig!” “Be a swan, dammit…elongate, elongate, ELONGATE!”

I won’t lie to you, it was discouraging.  Even ten-year old girls are savvy enough to know what adults mean when they whisper and point and outright tell you to your face you aren’t worthy.  And my mom, well my mom, bless her heart, knew that, and I can remember a time or two when her vocal talons let my ballet teacher know just how she felt about her criticisms of her daughter’s chances at ballet greatness.

But the thing is, I didn’t want to be great at ballet…or tap…or jazz, even hula.

I just wanted to dance!

I wanted to be that long ago grainy black and white image of a lady, a beautiful lady, feathers wafting as her dance partner carried her across the dance floor effortlessly.  I wanted to be that joy, that hope, that moment in time when there was nothing I could not do.  I was floating.  Lighter then air.  “Heaven…I’m in Heaven…”.

So, I kept at it.  I danced for years until time passed and “Moe and Joe” (incarnation number 5), lay forgotten in my closet, replaced by high school shenanigans, chasing boys and new dreams of learning to fly and to sail and to write.

Along the way,  I have had more than my share of naysayers.  Kids, teens, grown men and women, just like my ballet instructor,  intent on making sure I understand I don’t fit the profile.  I don’t have what it takes. Sometimes they have been right.

But more often than not, I’m grateful for that little girl who believed in the magic of the dance. In that grainy black and white image on a screen of all that is possible, of all that could be and will be in my life.  Of all the joy, hope and beauty in the living, in the trying. 

The wonderful swirls and twirls of life that weave us in and out of our dreams.

I’m grateful that I didn’t give up on her. She knows

I just wanted to dance!

And dance I am.   I hope you are too!

In this positivity journey together, one positive (and negative) step at a time,

PositivelyAnne