sometimes, a slant

Posted by on October 28, 2009


Today I accused myself of taking the same pictures over and over again, unintentionally. It does not help that my baby girl, at six months, looks very much like her older sister once looked at six months. Often these days I take a picture and then realize it is, in a sense, the same picture I took of Esme two and a half years ago. I search the archives and find that, indeed, they are so similar! Perhaps Elsa’s cheeks are a little less chubby; her skin tone more pink.

Perhaps I am engineering a pattern because I do love patterns, connectivity. Maybe so, but not consciously.

There is a view from our second story bedroom window which I have felt compelled to frame with my camera several times, but in instances so spaced out that I am not conscious of having done it before. Seeing it in deep snow once two winters ago, at the last slanting light of the day, I stood atop our bed and took a photograph. Seeing it again a few days ago, I must have felt that same compulsion, but not being consciously mindful of the time before.

This window does not typically offer any radiant event but rather dull yellow sameness in mid-summer haze, or a gray sameness the rest of the year. I might glance out while standing at the foot of the bed, folding laundry. A moment of slanting light tenders a visual event and I can’t help but take notice. Then the clicking sound of a camera becomes a way to add weight to the appearance of what must disappear, a way to say thank you.

This week I’ve been hemmed in by the confines of our apartment because it began with a cold on Sunday which kept me at home with my nursing baby while Jeff and Esme stayed out all day at church, followed by a church picnic and kickball game and then a hike with friends. Though her source of sustenance, I was certainly boring company for Elsa all day Sunday, stirring ascorbic acid (which is Vitamin C) into multiple glasses of water, heating chicken broth, sitting her down on the floor with a toy with the unspoken entreaty to please be content with the toy and the emptiness of the apartment and the inanimate mother. And waiting for her next short nap so that I too could drop into restorative, never-enough sleep.

I determinedly stamped out my cold with my stubborn application of home remedies, then proceeded to wake up to a feverish three year-old the next day. Esme had the flu– that thing that has been around all my thirty-two years of life on Earth, but which this season is being billed as a harbinger of death. My home remedies seemed very feeble but I wielded them nonetheless, disguising olive leaf extract in some applesauce with honey, spiking her diluted juice with vitamin C powder, and of course feeding her chicken broth the one time she willingly ate. The Pedialyte freezer pops went over relatively well also. But perhaps the bodies of generally healthy children are resilient: she licked the flu in two days and two nights, waking up symptom-free today, Wednesday. But still not strong enough for pre-school, I mostly let her lie on the futon, watching Dora, Kipper, and Max & Ruby.

Elsa, for inscrutable reasons, except perhaps that breastmilk contains antibodies and perhaps because, unlike most other people, is privileged to sleep whenever her little body needs to, has shown no sign of any sickness during all this time. I’m thankful for that boon.

In any case, it has been a long week so far, and flu season, or sick season–or just plain winter–has only just begun. Family life with small children is so often just raggedy, around-the-clock work, which affords few phenomenal contours. Reading a book of sayings from modernday Greek elders from a reclining position on the sofa, Jeff read one aloud to me the other day, prefaced by a hey-listen-to-this. It is by a certain Elder Epiphanios:

“When someone is free, he has rights and responsibilities. When he marries, he has few rights and very many responsibilities. When, however, he has children, he doesn’t have any rights at all, but only responsibilities.”

Well, that’s what I’m talkin’ about, Elder Epiphanios.

But I am not complaining. Nor do I think that life has to be so hemmed in to be valid– a denial of worldly possibilities and opportunities. I think what I am saying is that when life’s responsibilities take us to that place of limitation, another capacity is heightened in direct proportion. Then, as compensation for giving yourself over to responsibility, as a gift, there develops a capacity. It’s the capacity to latch onto the beautiful moments of family life within the nexus of struggle. It is why I take pictures of my girls’ beautiful faces even on the days when they’ve driven me mad and back numerous times. Or it is the capacity to regard the spectacle of slanting light on a leaf-or-snow-carpeted patch of mundane, even when that same window view has at other times depressed me. I really think that the flicker of beauty isn’t a foreign substance, a break from the mundane, but a flaring up of the same stuff.

  1. Jenny
    November 7, 2009

    Oh my goodness Julia, this is so astonishingly beautiful, and also so helpful at the same time. Thank you for writing it and for dazzling me with your photos and insights.

  2. anna j
    November 29, 2009

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. anna j
    November 30, 2009

    Strange–a comment I meant as a private message appeared here . . . guess that's what happens when I am tired 🙂
    Sorry about that: what I meant to write was about how grateful I am for your beautiful words and photos. You lift the spirits of those of us who know to come to you, and I am happily catching up as I just happily discovered you've been blogging again.
    Thank you for sharing words, and worlds.