Last January one of my daughters shepherded me through the relatively minor technical work needed to begin this blog, giving me a nicely calendared progression of posts upon which to reflect.
Recently I found on my husband’s computer the 500 digital photographs–among tens of thousands he took–that he rated highest. I studied them to try to discern exactly why these were so special to him. Some were obvious: pictures of all our children, and other family members, and me (I am a very reluctant subject and he cleverly captured the latter from afar, without my noticing); pictures of nature–from an up-close tiny blue newt on our daughter’s shoe to panoramic mountain ranges–from three continents.
Some–like some of the favorite photographs I am posting here–may require a little bit more interpretation. One I took at a farmer’s market after depositing a child at school on a gorgeous late August day; another was taken at a wedding, on a boat in Boston Harbor; another, an observer would be unlikely to know, is of flags waving atop a white picket fence in the aftermath of a murderous shooting spree just up the street from our home last spring. Our little town’s police chief was shot to death, and four other officers grievously wounded. The town’s lone elementary school’s parking lot had become a staging ground for an armed standoff.
Sometimes the story behind a photograph is nothing like you would imagine.
I decided to take yet another cue from Jim and try to wrap up this year on the blog by finding one photograph and post from each month of this blog’s brief but extremely therapeutic (for me) existence: not necessarily technically the best photograph I took that month, or the best-written post, but the ones which have some special meaning to me. I may not even know yet why, but I’ll take a stab at it.
January is a close call, because the single poem I would want everyone I know to read, Kindness, is found in another of the month’s first dozen posts (The Other Deepest Thing). But the post to which I return most frequently is The Things He Carried. The title is a take on Tim O’Brien’s novel (with the intriguing narrator of self-consciously dubious reliability), and writing this post about the few small things my husband–who was not tied to material goods in the way most people are–carried to the end truly helped me to think about the ways in which an object without any monetary value can be rendered priceless, imbued with stories, with love and friendship and the fondest of memories.
I had the sense that I wrote nearly constantly in February, although in fact it appears that my roiling winter mind churned out only a few more posts than it had in January. Again I have a close runner-up (Renewing Rituals), but it was closely followed by Coletanea de Death Cab–the post in which I reflected on being alone–but not entirely–during the long drive back from a memorial service in New Jersey.
It was one of those posts I could write fairly easily, but had difficulty reading. It was the post after which suddenly people were contacting me with variations on: “I enjoy reading your posts, Steph, but I’m not going to do it at work any more. . . .” On reflection, writing this post somehow helped me understand how profoundly my husband Jim helped us prepare to keep him with us, and how life-sustaining the love of friendship can be, when–the day before Jim died–he told our friend Bob about his concept of the afterlife: the part of him we would keep with us and the part of us he’d take with him.
March is the month Jim died. On the anniversary of that date my sons and I accompanied one of my daughters all the way to Kyoto in an attempt to trick time. My favorite post and photograph both are from A Beach Bouquet: I think this is exactly how Jim would have wanted us to commemorate the anniversary of the day he came home (an anniversary that fell only hours before we took off for an incredible adventure that he would have wanted us to take when he could not).
April’s calendar is clogged with twenty posts. I am somewhat fond of the randomness of my multi-part still jet-logged travelogue, but would pick A Swath of Sepia. Looking back, I can pick up hints of what those who know me best saw first: perhaps I was just starting to be able to see color again, metaphorically speaking. Again I have a runner-up in Ghosts on the Wire–which, in retrospect, hints that I was beginning to hear Jim’s music again.
May’s post–A Divet and a Button–was chosen for me mainly by the reaction to it. It has been the most-read post–even more than the post that was Freshly Pressed. It was a post I was not sure I should write or publish, as it seemed at the time one of those events that could be momentous to me but not resonate with many other people. I was wrong. It is the story of a remarkable memorial service in which my husband’s life and profession and service seemed to come full-circle: I met the first-year medical students who learned from his body, which he donated to the medical school he had attended, and where as a first-year student he had learned from someone who had made the same gift.
For June I am picking a post, The Hint of a Spark, for its first sentence: “Maurice Sendak could not draw horses.”
July is a toss-up between a post about a wedding and one about an anniversary, both missing the same wonderful man: Four Rounds and a Wedding is about the first occasion following Jim’s death when I felt something like happiness, for his longtime friend at a wedding on the water. Three days later it was Jim’s and my wedding anniversary, and I may actually have smiled in writing about the comforting (and very hard to explain to traditional mortals) presence of my “ghost hubby” in Every Ghost Story is a Love Story.
From August I would choose Missing Pieces, some summer ruminations as I continue to think about how to look at what is in my world–the things I can see, and the things I can’t.
September’s entry would be Paint My Spirit Gold–not necessarily the least self-pitying thing I’ve written, but I can detect a return to my edge of defiance in resuming trial work, in returning to the rhythm of children’s school years, in moving on to a new home in a new place, and in getting out and about to dozens of hospitals in order to talk about our family’s experiences when entrapped as full-time patient and caregivers.
October brought Disbelieving Dark: finally I could begin to articulate a transition from the bad kind of haunting to the good kind.
In November, Geometry: A View From Above, let me step back into Jim’s (much larger) shoes and see things through his lenses, through his eyes. It reminded me of all the beauty Jim left with us to see and wanted us to continue to experience.
Song of the Sky is my favorite from December…..so far…..an ode to friendship. And to Jim’s beloved birds.
So, my fellow bloggers, writers, photographers, and readers……Do you have a favorite thing you’ve written, painted, photographed, grown, quilted, cooked, or otherwise created this year? Feel free to share in the comments section.
8 thoughts on “Learning Curve”
Beautiful memories, both in words and pictures. Thanks for sharing.
Wait a minute…am I to understand that you had a husband that had been with you since you were teenagers, with whom you had four children, whose name was Jim, and that you were recently widowed?! Too many coincidences! Me, too, on all points. Found you through Jeff Sinon’s post today. Small world… Nice to make your acquaintance!
We need to start a support group…..are you in New England?
No, actually, I’m in Wisconsin. I was born in Massachusetts, though!
Oh, I wish you lived closer….can we email talk? The similarities are even more uncanny than you may no image (now that I’ve been reading your blog….which gives me such hope that there may still be happiness in our futures).
Beautiful. I look forward to reading the posts here. Therapeutic, yes.
Thank you! Still therapeutic for me….and I hope for someone out there to read…..