For the last few weeks my time has been spent writing emails back and forth, texting, and chatting with a woman I've known for about 15 years. On January first we started at the beginning of our lives and are now about mid-point, with multiple detours to explore issues that threw themselves on the path knowing we couldn't just step over them and pretend they weren't there.
Like her dying. Lydia is in her mid-40's and was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer in late December. Time at that moment became compressed into something small enough to hold in her hand. We'd always shared a lively dialogue by email a couple times a month, but from that day it took on a new urgency and now it's a need, an obsession, a daily practice that sometimes takes up several hours of the day.
We started at the beginning because it became important to remember, to go back over all the small details of first meeting. She was the youngest member of our writer's group that met once a month to camp out together in nature and write. We shared a common bond of either being immigrants or first generation, and Lydia was also the newest to the country. She married an American that she once thought she loved and realized that it was something far more complicated. By then it was too late to change her mind as there was nothing left to go back to, so she stayed with him.
Neither of us remember exactly how we started writing to each other after the group ended. The excuse was that she needed to practice her already perfect English, but it was actually that we understood something in each other, that we had some need to communicate ourselves through the written word that couldn't be expressed any other way.
We're both talkers when there's something to talk about, but with a keyboard, we've solved the world's problems hundreds of times over, we've created wonderful new worlds, filled them with people, formed governments for them, and used it all to define what perfection means to us when everything else is stripped away to the bare bones of idealism.
For Lydia it's beauty. Not the physical beauty of a human being, but the beauty that is Nature. We're both Atheists and it would be a mistake to assume we've merely substituted the natural world for the mythical world. The truth is much simpler. We do not see ourselves as separate from Nature. We are as much a part of it as it is of us. Or as Lydia so aptly put it "You do not worship self unless you're a total, clueless asshat."
And that's just one of the reasons we're friends. When we hug a tree, we do so as equals. There's very few we could write those words to and be immediately understood. For both of us we've had to defend such a simple thing to people who refuse to accept its simplicity. They want us to believe in something as if believing in our own selves, our own ability to perceive the wonder and connectedness of nature is not enough. Lydia describes the religious as hungry people who are never full because they eat air. It makes perfect sense when you think about it.
Neither one of us are the delusional type. We're often pragmatic to a fault so we're not even remotely in denial as to how all this will end. Of course we went through the first few weeks of devouring every scrap of hope on the internet, of exploring every option, every possibility. And then she wrote me and said enough, that she wasn't going to waste one moment more on arguing with the inevitable. She wanted instead to spend the time she had left wallowing in beauty.
So I started sending her photographs. I'm by no means a professional photographer. I'm an amateur who has an ordinary camera and loves to take photographs primarily to share with others. I adore Facebook for this aspect of it. My page is a community of people from all over the world who sometimes don't speak each others languages very well, but we can all hold a camera and capture a moment to share. And in this way we make a village of the vastness of the world. We come to know each other in a way that language will only approximate. We share what we see with our eyes and gift it with our hearts to each other. "Oh the places we've been!"
And so I started sending even more photographs. I've taken thousands over the last three years. I live in a very photogenic part of the world. It is so beautiful that all you have to do is aim a camera at it and it returns itself as something awesome and special. They help her get through the hardest part of treatment, the treatment that won't save her life but will hopefully give her a few extra months.
That's all she can hope for now, a few more weeks here, maybe a few more there. It's her tapestry of hope to weave those moments, those days, those weeks into more time. To get there, she travels into the images as her physical body is being treated and so for a few moments at a time, she has a bit of a reprieve, a break from the hardship and pain that is her life now.
But rather than succumb to the despair, the feeling of hopelessness, Lydia decided to live differently. She surrounds herself with beauty in being and thought. She has banished the negative, the mean, the judgemental from her life and lives only with the ultimate sense of honor and love and peace. She wrote me that everything has two sides and you can choose to focus on the positive or the negative side of it and she was choosing to look only at the positive. Let them laugh, she wrote to me. What can they do to me? I'm already dying.
So she has created a world for herself where there is music and art and beauty. It is a lovely and peaceful existence. She printed out many of my photographs and taped them to the walls of her tiny house. And she wrote me that the more she looked at them, the more she looked at the photographs of my friends on my Facebook page, the more she realized that they were a shared language.
We were brought together by words and so it makes sense that we have progressed toward photography as language. She wrote me at the beginning of February and said she wanted something from me, she wanted me to help her leave a living legacy of beauty. We endlessly discussed how this could be done, how it could be created and shared and finally came to a solution that works off what I already do.
In January of each year, after the holiday rush is over, I usually open a new store to fill yet another niche I saw that I wanted to create for. But this time the primary requirement that it be profitable did not enter into the picture. This time it was just to share beauty, to encourage others to share beauty, and to learn each other's languages in a new way.
So I opened up a photography store on Zazzle Northwest Photography. It's not the kind of store that will ever make a lot of money. Sure, I'll probably sell a couple cards or magnets or something now and then and that will be wonderful, but the main purpose of it is to serve as a role model for my friends who speak the same language of photography. Here's what you can do with all those pictures you take every day, those wondefful and awe-inspiring nature scenes that we all share with each other.
And think about it, you have an endless supply of cards to send for every occasion, swag for your businesses, gifts for everyone on your shopping lists and they all came from you. I realize this might seem like an overwhelming task for those of you who aren't that comfortable with the learning curve that opening an online store will require. So why not just print out some of your photographs yourself? Why buy some generic card when you can send beauty?
And as both Lydia and I and many others believe, why support the corporate world of importing cheap impersonal gifts from some mega-factory when you can make your own and support each other too? After all, we speak the same language when we post our photographs on Facebook. This is just another way to pronounce the words you already know.