Do you see this photo? I hate it. And yet I love it. Is that possible? I hate it because I feel as though I look as big as a house in the crinoline dress I thought was so beautiful and that my butt appears even more rotund than it is. Yet I also love it because it is a photo of me dancing to the special song my son personally selected for his mother-son dance at his wedding. And, yes, I was a blubbering idiot, crying the entire time on the shoulder of my handsome 27-year-old son. But I have to confess when I saw the photo for the first time my initial response was, “Ugh! That can’t go in his collection of wedding pictures to be remembered for all time.” Of course, I kept the thought to myself, as the day was, after all, about my son and his new bride and not about me.
However, it was after I made it home from that long, grueling 12-hour road trip and a whirlwind weekend that I found out a dear friend of mine was under hospice’s care, and something happened inside me to prompt this message. My dear friend was only 63 years old and had been married to the love of his life for 45 years. I was blessed to know him for 10 of those. He had two beautiful children who often played with mine, and our families shared many cookouts, parades, outdoor fun and laughs together. I was unable to make his funeral service but sent a plant along with individual, personal messages to each of my friends with prayers, thoughts, sentiments and condolences. Sparing the long story, I’m sure you gather that we were a very close family with their family. Yet, through the distance, I do not think they knew the hurt that I really felt at his loss.
It wasn’t until his daughter posted on Facebook the 15-minute video the funeral home made of him and his life. The photo slide show passed frame by frame of images from the young man working on cars, fishing with friends, marrying his lovely bride, dancing with his daughter, wrestling with his son and so much more. Some of the photos were old, tattered and faded. Some he looked like a movie star, very handsome with no shirt. I actually thought, “Hubba hubba!” I’d never seen him that way before. Other photos he was as I remembered, smiling, a bit scruffy, with kind eyes. For 15 minutes I watched a man’s life pass me by in pictures, and I realized that he had really lived and was really loved.
I’ve seen these videos before. In fact, I have even made them. Carefully choosing the right song to portray the personality. And yet, this one struck me for some reason. Perhaps it is the photographer in me now. Watching these photos slide one by one as songs were being sung. And then I realized, there was not a “posed” picture in the bunch. All candids, all raw, all truly who he was. Shirtless, covered in mechanic’s grease, fish guts, cigarette hanging from his mouth, goofy personality shining through, a child clinging to his leg. It was who he was. Who he lived to be. It was rare and beautiful, and I realized at that moment, especially as a photographer, that I have hidden behind the lens and as a mother that I have spent the past 30 years or so avoiding being in the picture or even accepting a picture unless I look “just right.” It was while watching his video that it came over me like a flood. What would my children do if they had to make a video of my life? My memory? My legacy? Where are the pictures of my life? I HAVE lived quite the life. I’ve been blessed with quite the personality and yet hidden away due to pride or vanity or some other silly reason.
Memories stay in our minds, but the moments that get captured by the click of a button are frozen in time. I encourage you to stop posing and stop worrying. I can assure you when I’m gone my son will remember the dance, not the dress or the size of my butt. And so remember, life is not posed. Embrace every moment and every dance.
c. michelle bryant
(as seen in Summer 2016 Focus on Fabulous Magazine)