Monday, August 13, 2012

Jesus of the Classifieds

     The summer before he died, my husband brought me to a big box electronic store and told me to pick out a new camera. I found a mid-priced model and asked him what he thought. “Not good enough” he told me, firmly. When we left the store, I was the slightly stunned owner of a new camera and zoom lens, at a cost nearly equivalent to our monthly mortgage payment. To justify the lavish gift, I took pictures relentlessly. For months I made art with my lens; sandy toes in summer tide, crimson pink ocean sunsets, large hands woven between smaller ones, eyes-his, mostly-sleeping and wide awake, smiling and bemused. Our last family vacation was chronicled in print; both the toothless smile of my firstborn and the sagging, too-large suit of her younger sister. There’s proof of months of workouts as Paul’s chiseled arms raised high our son and released him -amid squeals of delighted laughter-into the hotel pool. After his accident, I even brought my camera to his hospital room, at least in the fearsome, but hopeful, beginning. It seemed equally important to document that part of our story. I took pictures of his swollen body and jaundiced eyes; the tubes entering and exiting his arms and neck. When his doctors forced his injured body into a coma for repair, I took pictures of that, too. One day, I thought, we’ll look back on this and remember just how bad it got, and we will bow our heads in gratitude at being spared.

     Nearly a year after I got that gift, Paul was dead. My desire to document our lives seemed to die with him, as I placed my camera high on my closet shelf. What would I put on film anyway, but forced smiles and bravado? We were a family in grief. Like a wounded animal retreating to lick its wounds, we needed quiet and space to recover. Photographs were for birthday parties and Christmas morning unwrappings, surely there was no need substantiate the aftermath of loss, the brutality of death?

     The brilliant photographer Annie Leibovitz encapsulated the sickness and ultimate death of her lifelong love, Susan Sontag, through her photography. In print she noticed Susan’s failing frame, her vanishing hair and emaciated body. Throughout their partnership, Leibovitz had used her camera to tell stories. “I made the decision in the long run that (the photographs of Susan) came out of a moment of grief and that grief gave the work dignity.” Leibovitz said. Perhaps she had it right. I sometimes wish I had kept clicking after Paul’s death. I regret not capturing the empty chair at the dining table or the mattresses crowding my bedroom floor, as my children clung to each other, and to me. I wish I had made those images permanent, because what I know now that I couldn’t believe then is…we would survive. We continue to mourn Paul; we continue to remember him; but while suffering found us, Hope and Promise also showed up.

     In the local paper, there are often classified ads directed to one saint or another, or sometimes, to Jesus himself. Reading these always gives me a giggle as I imagine The Lord, fielding thousands of faithful prayers emanating from homes and hospital beds, churches and war zones…”And now,” I imagine Jesus declaring stoically, “onto the classifieds!”

     This week the kids and I traveled to see Paul’s parents in a very remote town in Northern Maine. To punctuate the ten hour drive, I stopped in Bangor and let them swim free in the hotel pool. Calling for me, I looked up from my magazine to pay attention to some new aquatic feat. For one poignant moment I looked at them, giggling and splashing, and I experienced a moment of such intense gratitude, it took my breath away. I wanted to scribble a simple classified ad to God:  “Thank you, for saving us.” Somehow in the dark of the night, quietly and without fanfare, we had made it.

     My children are not the people they would be if their father were here. There are lessons and gifts only he could have bestowed. Yet here our children are; scarred but thriving, wounded but kind, not the people they could’ve been, but incredible individuals, no less. And I did what any parent would do to preserve a precious moment, I picked up my camera and clicked.


  1. Your writing is beautiful as always, Heidi. You give me chills, and you manage to tuck a chuckle in there as well. Thank you! Xo Kristen

  2. Excellent Heidi! Very well written as always. Those kids are my favorite!

  3. Thanks, dearest -- you shared your story and I share my tears. So touching. xoxo -Jenna