Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Too Much Beauty

Sunset  from my backyard last summer

During a difficult period some years ago, an old priest/counselor told me that as I endured pain, my capacity for feeling joy would grow commensurately. It seemed small comfort at the time, but now I believe he was on to something. Grieving the death of my son in June, I’m going through another hard time. A friend who also lost a son to addiction told me his grief comes in waves. I’m seeing now what he meant and I’ve been swept along on such a wave for days as I write. I have to let it carry me and feel the grief, but not let it drown me or smash me on the rocks. When the wave passes I’ll be able again to sense beauty around me, which is always there whether I perceive it or  not.
Leaves falling in the yard last month

He was an Anglican priest and his son was alcoholic too. He understood the anguish I felt watching my own son spiral down. When I asked how to deal with it, he said: “Carry it.”

“Carry it?” I asked. “That’s the best you can do for me?” It was, he said, so I tried carrying it with as much dignity as I could muster and then asked: “What’s next?”

“Embrace it,” he said.

“Really?” I said. “I don’t ever see myself doing that,” and I didn’t for years. While my son was alive I still thought I might do something to steer him from his self-destructive path, but his death ended that. I haven’t been embracing my grief; I’ve been wrestling with it. I grapple onto it and try to throw it aside. Sometimes I get some respite before it comes back. Will I ever come to embrace it? I don’t know. The old priest was right about the joy part though. I’m having my moments between waves.
Grandson Henry in a pout

I’m seeing too much beauty around to record and preserve, though I try very hard. It’s a nice problem to have. I’ve been able to extract increasing measures of joy in attempts to replicate it. Never do I go anywhere without a good camera near at hand. If it’s not slung over my shoulder, it’s in my car or truck parked nearby. If I’m taking pictures, I know I’m healing. In letters, emails, and texts, I try to use words as a medium for capturing and preserving it, and those go to people I love. Occasionally I use this space to express what I’m feeling, but in a somewhat muted form.
Grandchildren on their porch in Sweden, Maine

Whether my method of capture is visual or verbal, it always falls short. The scene itself is always more beautiful than my picture of it; the thought or feeling is always more profound than my description of it. However inadequate my recording efforts, they please me more as time goes by. Pictures I took two, three, or ten years ago seem more adequate because the memory of the experience has faded while the quality of my visual or verbal facsimile remains undiminished.
With my wife and grandson at Colosseum last month

My pictures are my own. I don’t sell them and I’m the only one who sees most of them. Every Christmas, however, I collect four or five hundred “best of the year” images and put them onto miniature flash drives for my children. These they insert into digital picture frames I gave them years ago. When I visit, I see those images displayed in five-second intervals on their walls. It’s possible they only turn the frames on when I’m visiting, but I don’t think so. I suspect they’re used often because the pictures are almost as meaningful to them as they are to me. Every shot is imbued with whatever I was feeling as I saw the beauty in the loved one or the scene. I saw and felt something exquisite each time I snapped the shutter.
From Rome's Palatine Hill last month

Before I had a good digital camera, I always had a good film camera and I shot slides rather than photos. The light capture was better in slides and capturing light is what photography is all about. Today, I much prefer seeing my digital photos on a computer screen or digital picture frame than on a print. Prints are disappointing, but I still enjoy them. I can derive pleasure while learning to dry mount, select a matte, and put them together in the right frame.
Lila, Luke, and Henry on their trampoline last month

Though I seldom read what I’ve written after it’s mailed, sent, or published, I often look at my pictures. As when listening to an old song or smelling an old, familiar scent, seeing my images of special people and beautiful scenes brings it all back. They help me realize I have much for which to be thankful. Thankful to whom? Why the God Who made us, Who sustains us, and Who calls us home when He’s ready of course. Who else?


Unknown said...

Totally love this article. Its home for me at so many levels. Thanks

Charlie Tryder said...

My favorite piece that you have written. You have inspired me to get a camera. I have spent too much of my life in words.... said...

"If I'm taking pictures, I know I'm healing"...AMEN!!!

Anonymous said...

Three of the lakes I monitor froze last night, shore to shore. The ice is thin, but it was about 10 above and it is time.

Roger Ek

Jud Tirre said...

Thank you Tom for sharing your advice and feelings with us.
Beauty is upon us for sure.

JeanieD said...

Tom: My heart aches for your loss...May our heavenly Father, through his son Jesus Bless the soul of your dear son. Our heavenly Father promises you and all your loved ones will be reunited in Paradise. Your photos are breathtaking your words even more so. Jean

adab said...

Thank you for sharing these tender and heartrending thoughts, Tom. It was courageous to do so, and meaningful to us, your readers. Through faith in the atonement of Christ, all these agonizing pains -- your own, as well as those borne by your son -- can be lifted and salved. One of our church leaders said it this way :“Having ‘descended below all things,’ He comprehends, perfectly and personally, the full range of human suffering.” We might even say that having descended beneath it all, He is perfectly positioned to lift us and give us the strength we need to endure our afflictions. We have only to ask." See his complete comments at:

May the Lord succor you and yours and provide lasting peace. -- AD