This past Spring when I got a new cell phone I was careful to make sure they could transfer all my old pictures over. Of particular interest to me was a photograph I have come to treasure. I didn’t care how great of a deal they could make me on a phone, if my pictures couldn’t come out of the store with me I didn’t want it. Mostly because of one photo I had failed to save on my computer. The Star Slinky Photo.
It’s not the kind of picture that you’d normally frame. There are no coordinating outfits, no bashful smiles, no captured laughter. In fact, there are no people at all. It’s not a picture that will take your breath away because it’s composed of two things you could find most anywhere. But even though you could find both items easily, it’s not a picture you could ever re-create because it’s not what is seen that makes it so special. It’s what is unseen. This is a picture of innocence, it’s a picture of stability, it’s a picture of peace.
I took this picture last year on December 22nd, the night before we were told Izzy had cancer. When I was standing on the opposite side of the lens I had no idea that it would be one of the last recorded moments of peace I would have for a long time. We had just put both kids to bed and were getting ready to watch TV when I went to the fridge. I opened the door and, to my surprise, found someone had left a star shaped slinky on the top shelf right next to the milk. Laughing, I took a picture on my phone and posted it on Facebook. Why wouldn’t there be a star slinky in the refrigerator?
This is a picture of innocence. When this picture was taken I didn’t yet know of the darkness that had invaded my daughter’s body. Her tiny frame was yet to be cut into, or poked and prodded daily. That night, cancer still didn’t have a name in our house. There were never parts of the disease that had been vaguely explained or parts of it that had been avoided completely when talking to young ears. When I took this picture it had never occurred to me that I might outlive one of my children.
This is a picture of stability. This picture was taken on a typical Thursday night in our home. I would have come home late and Kendrick would have been cooking dinner. I’m sure the kids were busy chasing each other around the house when I walked through the door. Too busy to pay much attention to me or to remember leaving a star slinky in the fridge. When this picture was taken we were a normal family with a normal life just like you. Our kids saw each other everyday. And they knew they would see their parents everyday too. When I took this picture my words were worth something. If I said I would see them tomorrow, I was good for it.
This is a picture of peace. Another thing you can’t see in this picture is that my kids were tucked away quietly in their beds down the hall. Kids whose biggest fears were things I could promise to protect them from. Things like spiders who could be squished with a shoe and darkness that could be illuminated by a nightlight. When I walked away from the fridge and sat down on the couch to unwind, I sat in peace. No matter what kind of day it had been, I now know sitting there in that moment was peace compared to any of this. I want to remember what it felt like to be the woman taking that photo, sitting in that peace. I wish I could tell her to stay awake a little while longer and bask in it. She had no idea what was about to happen to her world when she woke up the next morning.
I am not, nor will I ever be, the same woman I was the night the Star Slinky Photo was taken. None of us will be. For better or worse, cancer is still changing us. And, yes, I believe that when we make it out on the other side of this we will be restored, but that restoration is necessary because this journey is so damaging and so depleting. For the past year I have looked at this picture with desperation wanting to go back to this one moment in time. Now I’m ready for a new picture.
I don’t need, nor do I want, a picture of this journey. Lord knows I will remember every stone along every inch of the way. But when it’s over, perhaps the day after our last treatment, I plan to take a new picture. I’m ready to start thinking about what I might see in that one. I’m learning that journeys like this take your heart and stretch it out, leaving a deeper capacity for feeling. Along the way my heart is gaining a greater capacity to feel sorrow, but it’s gaining a a greater capacity to feel joy as well. I’m choosing to believe that whatever beauty is captured in the second picture, there will be exponentially more of it than the beauty that was in the first. I can’t wait.