Thursday, May 26, 2011
Touching the Eternal
A friend of mine was here this morning. His name is Paco and we have a shared interest in photography. His work is beautiful – he has a good eye. He can raise the ordinary to its proper, and often overlooked, place in the realms of mystery, beauty, wonder. He takes everyday scenes and these are kept in his albums, pictures through which grace is captured.
He sent me an email not too long ago about how photography captures the eternal in the split second of a moment. A beautiful image is like a window through which the eternal can be seen. I liked what he wrote. I can see it in what he photographs. An old ship off the coast of Argentina. A path through a wooded area. Pictures of his grandchildren. Waves stilled by his camera, as they rose against the shore of Argentina.
We spoke of many things this morning. We chatted about our families, our current hopes, some disappointments. The photographs called to mind our losses – he had a photo of his mother, a beautiful woman. It was taken in 1936. She is smiling, wise, her life ahead of her. I thought of my mom, who is gone three years today. I told Paco that. She, too, was beautiful and I must find a picture I have of her that was taken about the same time as Paco’s photo of his mom.
Paco spoke of eternity and how it is that God lives in the eternal. He is not bound by the constraints of time – though I suppose that at one time he was. And how is it that we know the eternal? That we intuit something that is so mysterious and that cannot be defined via the categories of time? Maybe we are somehow made from the eternal. It lives in us but we lack the language to capture it. And so it is that the lens of a camera steals something from the passage of time, and enshrines it in beauty. We cannot speak the eternal. But a photograph is a near approach, a touching of the eternal. We know what we cannot speak. So we take a picture. We treasure something that was and yet still is, in the picture.
The taking of a picture pulls one into the present moment. The present moment demands all the attention, the care, the observation that one can give with the timely press of a shutter. Life moves on, but a choice was made to suspend worries about the past, worries about the future, and to give the present its claim. It is quite Zen-like. In fact, there are books that suggest the relatedness between a Zen mind and a photographer’s eye. Abandoned ships and rising waves say something, once stilled.
While in New Jersey not long ago, I drove down to the old Essex Catholic High School building in Newark. I went to high school there, from 1962-1966. I did not go alone. My twin Jimmy was alive then, and we traveled to school every day. We took a bus from our home town and got of the bus at Branch Brook Park. I do not remember as much as I would like about him. A psychologist said that his death was so painful for me that I suppressed many memories of him. It has taken me a long time to deal with that. I do not understand it, but it is true. But bit by bit, I try and remember him, how he walked, what we spoke about, the sound of his voice, his likes, dislikes, sense of humor, hopes. I drove around a bit that day, down Second Avenue, then on to Summer Avenue and along Mt. Prospect. Driving down Second Avenue, the building looks enormous. I guess that is because that area is higher, looking down on the building. I can remember walking down that hill, to the school, early in the morning with Jimmy. That memory is as fresh as if we walked yesterday. It is one of the clearest I have of him. He walked just ahead of me, on a spring morning. The air was cool and his jacket fluttered as he walked. He held his books close to his chest. And he was walking briskly.
I should have parked the car and taken some pictures from that vantage point. He would not be in the picture, but I would like to have it. He walked there once. I remember it. He walks in another place now, out of time, in the eternal. I like to think he still walks with me, some time. But maybe he has always been just ahead. I will be sixty-three in a few days. Maybe he will turn and look behind, from wherever he is, and wait for me. I hope so. I would like to touch him, touch what is eternal.
I want the picture. Well, next time. I will be there again, trying to capture something of the eternal, of the stillness that is born through every second of time, a stillness that was once walking just ahead of me on a long ago spring day.