One of the many things I love about film is that it takes time to process.
I believe that things happen *for me* not *to me.* So much of what’s happened *for me* takes time to understand. The meaning we make around the circumstances we survive can change with time as we begin to see ourselves more clearly.
I don’t really know how to explain it, but a good photographer inserts herself into the image. It’s why you can look at a photo of an iconic photographer and identify it. I’m in this image. It’s a darker part of myself I don’t always see because I really love to chase the bright side of life.
I shot this photo at dawn at my in-laws’ place in Mulhall, Oklahoma. I recall looking at my calendar that weekend and realizing it was the first in a while that I was not working. I love to be at home but knew we needed an adventure.
Cash could run. Samuel could be spoiled. My wife could fish. It was a couple weeks after she – my wife – was diagnosed with breast cancer. I rarely, if ever, call her “my wife.” I typically call her my partner, which is confusing because I have business partners, and these relationships are far different. This terminology is an engrained protective mechanism and byproduct of living in Texas all my life. I’ve always felt sad for people who change their pronouns to suit the audience and shy away from sharing for who they are. I understand it…I can empathize with the fear they must have to keep those facades so well constructed…yet it’s still sad to me.
It seems hospital staff could use some diversity and sensitivity training. I know that to them, we are a commodity. Healthcare. I don’t have the answers. I am going to go out on a limb – see what I did there – and go conspiracy theory for a moment about how we’ll never find a cure for cancer because the medical model depends upon sick people to treat and the radiologists and oncologists and surgeons are all in one big cancerous bed together. And still, I’m so grateful that they’ve removed the cancer from my wife’s body. I can hold both perspectives at once: cancer treatment is a conspiracy and I’m happy to know my wife will likely live for the foreseeable future. So, with such complexity in healthcare, I’m not surprised by the lack of heart I see in the medical industry. But, I was surprised…over and over…when they wanted to know if she was my sister or mother or friend. Dana never missed a beat – even on morphine – she raised her eyebrow and said, “She’s my wife.”
So from this day forward, I’m going to call MyDana my wife. If I can muster half the courage and conviction she has, I’ll be fine. My. Wife. My wife. Mywife. Myyyyyyyy Wiiiiiife.
I think it’s good for people to be a little uncomfortable. If not, how else will they learn? And it makes me uncomfortable, and I know that’s where I grow.
She and I have been together ten years, and in that time, I think she’s been married to a few different versions of Amber. Just this morning at dawn I was singing, a little too happily, to my boy, and she was staring at me, and I looked at her and said, “Who am I?”
“I don’t know, but you’re *not* who you used to be.”
I’m not always who I want to be. There’s an egomaniacal part of me who believes with all the yoga and meditation and self-help literature and therapy and addiction recovery, I should be better than I am. Why can’t I walk on water yet? But she’s certainly right: I’m not who I used to be.
And on the morning when I took this photo, she nudged me and said, “Oh babe, you should see the fog on the pond right now.” And I wanted to see it.
And in hindsight, I see myself in that moment, too.
I’m at home now for a few more weeks as I try to stay in the moment and offer my best quality of attention to my wife and my son and even my dog. My wife keeps elevating me to sainthood, but I just did what I needed to do. There was a day not so long ago after my wife had come through surgery, and everything looked good and I exhaled enough to say, “I am so proud of you…you are so courageous.”
And she looked at me and thought about it for a moment. Her internal rhythm is a little slower than mine; she processes a little slower. I wonder what that must be like. She said, “I just did what needed to be done.”
That is the definition of courage: to be scared but to do it anyway.
I took a few weeks off from the work I love because it needed to be done. And as bitter and sweet as this experience continues to be, I know that with time I’ll look back on this period differently.