My North Carolina friend Santi is a photographer by love. As I sat with her this week, along with Grace, Laura, and Dori, eating amazing food they had prepared for us in honor of my too-brief return to the circle, I lamented that we left the beautiful table to move closer to the fire before I had taken a picture of us all. Santi said, “It’s in our hearts; we don’t need a picture.” She confessed she has been embracing the fact of impermanence, and is learning to let life burn a picture in her soul rather than insisting on capturing all the moments digitally. Pretty big for a photographer. Considering the 1000s of pictures of everything that catches my attention hogging space on my computer—it’s way too easy to reach for the ever-present cell phone—I’m ready to go there with her.
Do we avoid opening our souls to experiences because we have a picture to remind us? I think we might. It’s not the first time I have thought of it when I see a sunrise and think about reaching for my camera, but I want to be more intentional about seeing the world with my heart rather than through the lens, which threatens to allow me to set aside the present and look at the picture later instead. (Don’t laugh that I included photos in this post; they are for you, not for me.)
My dear friends here—those in the circle and others I have spent time with this week—along with me, have all experienced impermanence in our own lives since I moved away: relationships ended, relationships begun, declining health of parents, physical moves, job change, clean bills of health signaling a reprieve from fear of return to illness, death, and children who have left the nests feathered for them and are making their own way in the world while we hold our breath.
I drove past my beloved house and was gratified by the improvements the new owners have made to the garden. They took what I had done and continued the love. And the Global Purple front door is still purple. It is exactly what I hoped for, and I feel ready to let go of my grief over leaving it. It is theirs now; and I have a new home to love back to life. In the impermanence there is forward movement.
The Raleigh skyline is ever changing. My favorite shopping center has new businesses and old ones are gone. The cafe is the same, though, and I saw familiar faces. My beautiful church, and employer for 11 years, is the same and different. Trees are bigger, offices have moved into altered spaces. But I was aware that I was the face of impermanence as I sat in the pew Sunday morning and looked around at the familiar faces who have stayed put while I moved on. It felt unsettling. The only thing that doesn’t change is the beautiful cemetery, and even there are new memorials while old ones continue to crumble; ancient trees that fall in windstorms and new ones planted; even an impermanent-by-definition Day of the Dead altar. Nothing stays the same.
Two friends in Washington, and one in my NC circle, have lost a loved one while I’ve been away. I didn’t know those who are gone now, returning to particles in the Universe, but I stand with my friends who are grieving their loss. While Grace and I enjoyed each others company and a cup of tea at an outdoor cafe table on Monday, a moment of tragedy a few yards away took the life of a young man in a flash, and forever changed that of a woman my age just because she got in her car and drove down a familiar road. We just don’t know how much time we have to let the beauty of life and the world sear itself into our bones. Photographs of the young man and my friends’ loved ones will be a comfort to those who knew them for a time, but it is what is in their hearts that will keep their presence close in the end.
Back home, where I will be in 48 hours, my mother continues her slide toward life’s end and her vision becomes ever-more confined to what she can remember, but no longer see through her eyes. Another reason to burn images onto the heart rather than a library of photos on the computer: the heart sees what the eyes cannot. I will continue to walk with her down this path, gently encouraging her to let go of that which needs to be let go of, and helping her see what neither her eyes nor a camera can.
“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.” Mary Oliver