In the summer of 2002, I co-hosted a shower for one of my very dearest friends in the whole wide world. I wanted, of course, for the party to be perfect and packed to the gills with the fondest of memories, memories I would capture through the magic of film and then display in a scrapbook-y kind of album, gluing photos on to rattle patterned cardstock and writing something adorable like “Mommy-to-be” or “Waiting for the Stork to Arrive” with curly cue letters in the space beneath them.
Those were the old days, when picture taking was a dicey affair -when you aimed, shot, and then hoped for the best, crossing your fingers all the way to Walgreens, CVS, or wherever it was that you dropped off your undeveloped memoirs from a time or place of great personal significance. Surely, then, you can imagine my disappointment upon paying the fifteen dollars for larger 4x6 prints, and doubles, only to sort through image after image of folded arms, laps cradling pastel blue paper plates, crossed legs, sandaled feet and a dozen or so completely noggin-less torsos. “Say ‘baby’ (instead of “cheese” because I’m clever like that), I had instructed all of the guests obediently posing, not realizing that with each and every click I was lowering my neck and the camera with it, offing heads like the Queen of Hearts, herself. Not a one was worth salvaging and I was forced to concede that I would most likely never become a noted photographer.
It’s slim pickins around here in the picture department due to those subsequent years of depending on the kindness of friends and family members to provide us with their extra set of photos. “Please,” long-distance relatives would beg of me, “do you have anything recent you could send?” And I’d promise that I would try to be more reliable – like I promised myself I would exercise and stop eating sugar. It’s a great idea in theory, for those who know how to stay on task, but …hmmm…wait a minute…what was I talking about?
Fast forward to just a couple of weeks ago when I borrowed my parent’s digital camera to take portraits of our sleepy-faced family before the midnight Pascha service, and by borrow I mean fell completely in love with, so much so that they haven’t had the heart to ask for it back. I was beyond pleased with the results. For the very first time EVER we got a picture of the six of us looking simultaneously pleasant – no tears, no half closed eyes, no wagging tongues. This mercifully foolproof technological wonder automatically focuses, lets you know when you to need use flash, allows you see the shots you’ve just taken and then to either delete them or store them or print them out on an impossibly tiny printer that conveniently attaches to the battery charger. If you’re in nature, press the flower button for close-ups of petals or of rain drops hanging precariously from wispy branches. At t-ball games, choose the symbol of a man sprinting to catch clearly the expression on your son’s face as he rounds the bases. There is even an option for novices like myself to be used for taking “action photos of children in bright light” which I gratefully took advantage of while the kids were swimming. By relying on established settings put in place by seasoned experts, I am free to stop sweating the details (too much shade? not enough?) and get down to the business of immortalizing the ages and stages of our lives that might otherwise pass me by near impercetibly.
I realized in my late twenties, once the novelty of unchecked independence had become tiring, overwhelming, and tainted by anxiety, that I function better - much, much better inside the safety net and comfort zone of set boundaries. At first I felt resistant to what I assumed were stifling barriers within full-time employment, and then stay-at-home motherhood, and even within the Church, the Orthodox Church for which I had abandoned an un-liturgical and less demanding Christ-centered tradition to become a part of. I thought it was better, more all-American, to decide for myself when to come, when to go, how to pass the time, and the best, most personally fulfilling way to live out the Faith. But the erraticism of my frequent mind and taste changing proved to be a stumbling block. Instead of feasting on the goodness of love and productivity, I was starving. In all the busyness of ransacking books, trends, and popular opinions for some kind of direction - for the most perfect ever recipe for contentment, I had failed to pause and nourish myself with something solid, healthy, and consistent.
I pray the ancient prayers of the Church and attend the scheduled services; I read the Scriptures assigned in a lectionary - the same Scriptures that were interpreted over a thousand years ago by Church Fathers whose Holy Spirit infused wisdom formed the rock solid, non-negotiables of Christian theology. I clean the exact same mess in my kitchen at least five times a day. I am governed by the sacraments, mundane responsibilities, and the needs of others dependent upon me for warmth and sustenance and unconditional support. I have willingly traded enslavement to my finicky whims and desires for the freedom that comes with submitting to the already established guidelines for salvation, guidelines defended valiantly throughout history by saints and martyrs. Outside of myself lies the key to authentic liberation, the mysterious solution to a pandemic of despair plaguing the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the sick and the seemingly strong and healthy. “If anyone would come after me, says Jesus in of the book of St. Matthew, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” How simple. How dangerous. How maddeningly accurate!
“Will someone, anyone, please take that thing from my mother!” Elijah pleaded with his friends at the bus stop, while I stalked him paparazzi style with my zoom lens. But I simply can’t help myself, it’s literally everywhere - the gorgeousness of spring blooming fragrantly on Dogwood trees, cheerily in the singing of whippoorwills, nostalgically in the youthfulness of my two sons and two daughters whose days I am now chronicling with renewed zeal. By intentionally searching for beauty in places often overlooked I’ve been rewarded with the gratification of regularly beholding its presence, of devouring the holiness right in front of me.
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