Portrait of Life Well Lived

Mom 21I love my mom so much it makes my heart feel like it’s going to explode. I can feel it in my chest. I feel it in my throat. I feel it in my hands and belly and spine. I know it in my eyes. I know this love in my mind and in my soul.

When I look at her — really look deeply at her — I see her for who she is and not just for who she has been for me.

Mom 5

I love to listen to her stories. I love to support her on my arm as we walk. Wrap my arm around her slender shoulders. Laugh with her. Bring her a cup of tea. Cover her with an extra blanket. Open the car door for her. Share our tears. Share chocolate. Watch her when she doesn’t know I am looking. Wash her hair in the kitchen sink. Cook for her.

I love knowing in the night, that she is snoring gently in a room just a few feet from mine … love knowing she loves me, because when I thanked her for letting me take these portraits of her, and for spending these almost-3-weeks with me, she hugged me and cried. We both cried.

Mom 16

Mom is 82. I feel more deeply connected to her now that I am an adult, than I remember ever feeling as a child. That is not to say I wasn’t close to Mom when I was little — maybe depth of relationship comes with the compression of time, with the way age matters less and less as we grow older. The difference between 80 and 60 is less than between 25 years old and 5.

Mom 9

Today I watched her through my lens. She knew I was looking. She knew my camera would capture every wrinkle and blemish, yet she relaxed and let me pursue something I have wanted for a long time … to capture the elusive portrait of someone who is part of me. Who is so deeply connected to me that when the time comes to let her go it will be the hardest thing I will ever do.

Mom 12

Mom 7 Mom 6

Maybe depth of relationship comes with changes inside me. Changes in that place of rebellion that still burns like a stubborn ember of fire. When I look in the mirror nowadays, I see my facial features softening, melting a little. I look like my mother. I am becoming a beautiful crone. A wise woman. Like her. When I see her through my camera viewfinder, I see myself in 20-some years. And I hope with all my heart, that I am as good and kind and loving a human being as my mom is.

A few more from our photo shoot today:

I am Lucky as a Photographer

Dezmond in a Fedora

Ali with Tom, the Horse

  • I am lucky because I have been involved in this young woman’s life for over 4 years.
  • I am lucky because she allows me to know her — the real her.
  • I am lucky to be able to point my lens in her direction almost anytime … she doesn’t mind. And she knows how to drop the mask and be herself. And she lets me see that. And record that part of her.
  • I am lucky to have been able to photograph her belly three times now. And the babies. And toddlers.
  • And finally I am lucky to watch healing happen in the heart a girl who was so wounded … and to see her find a partner who cherishes her, who is a good papa, who is gentle and funny and real.

On the Bridge

Here’s a peek at some of the images my lens captured today. Check back for more. We’re still in the stage of choosing which ones we like best.

Ali-Nick-Dez-Adrian02-imp Dezmond in a Fedora Ali-Nick-Dez-Adrian04-imp

Ali-Nick-Dez-Adrian03-imp Nick, Ali and Adrian Maternity Belly Photo

Dez and Tom, the Horse Nick wanted to do the "Lion King" pose Ali-Nick-Dez-Adrian15-imp


Lessons from a Grandchild

mother holding child in rocking chair

mother holding child in rocking chair

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”

~Mary Oliver

I am babysitting my grandson, so my son and his wife can have an evening alone. I have been at their house a few days and have let Henry take the lead in deciding when and how much to trust his Montana Gma, how close to let her come. He gives me cues. I follow. He has started coming to me. Just a little. I am happy to have that.

So here I am in their cozy home, for a little while, alone with this sweet sleeping child.  I hear him crying.  I go to my grandson in his little bed on the floor in the corner of his parents’ room. He is crying in the darkness, woken from a dream, or maybe from a dreamless sleep … by something. A chill? A small sound? The cat stepping across his blanket?  Or just coming to the light part of his sleeping when any little thing will make him drift up from sleep like a bubble of air rising in still water.

He is used to his mommy or daddy cuddling on the bed when he wakes in the night, so I try that… but I smell different. My humming voice sounds different. My body bigger, not mama’s not dada’s. He looks at me in the dark with wide eyes and cries some more. His daddy told me to try cuddling, try milk, try just rubbing his back. Try not to bring him out into the kitchen/living room into the light…well, that’s not working … so we go into the kitchen to make a bottle of milk.

He cries quietly in my arms. Watches me make the bottle. We go back into the darkened bedroom, wrap up in a fuzzy blanket and sit in the rocking chair. He pushes the milk on the floor. Not having that! I keep rocking. I whisper the song I used to sing to his daddy. I love you … bigger than a great big whale, softer than a bunny, greener than the grass. I love you farther than the farthest star, taller than a redwood tree, deeper than the sea… and within minutes he is breathing slow and calm, sleeping on my chest.

Regardless of how hard you try to follow the rules, to be good, you will always be led to what you’re meant to learn. The rhythm of things, of sleep and waking and grief. The movement. The heartbeat. The connection of breath to breath. This is what you needed to learn. To follow your heart. And that was always to sit holding him, breathing with your face resting on the top of his head, smelling the sweetness of his long curls and his soft baby skin. Tears wetting your cheek and the top of his head. Crying in the half-dark, not from sadness, or any sort of disconnect but from the wild and precious connection you feel with this small child. This child who possesses a piece of you. Who holds a big part of your heart in his chubby little hand and makes little sleeping noises against your chest.

In this moment. In the darkness. In the quiet warm house you know all you need to know and you stay rocking him for longer than you need to.


I end with an excerpt from another poem by Mary Oliver, Invitation:

… believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.


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